Leading Chefs Talk Representation in the Restaurant Industry
On Wednesday, in celebration of Black History Month, Meredith Corporation hosted a panel called “Recipe for Success,” bringing together chefs Nyesha Arrington (of Native, in Santa Monica), Marcus Samuelsson (of Red Rooster, in Harlem), and Ashley Eddie (of Santina, in the West Village) to talk about the lack of representation in the top tiers of the restaurant industry. The panel was moderated by Lynya Floyd, Health Director of Family Circle, and touched on topics ranging from the importance of mentorship to the business sense in diversity. Here are some key takeaways we gathered:
The newest ideas can come from the oldest traditions.
“To be able to connect through food and understand culture through food is very important,” Arrington said. “Not just from one voice; many voices really create soul.”
“The short rib braised dumpling on my menu is 100 percent an example of that,” Arrington continued. “That’s a dish that my mom, my sister, my grandmother and I used to sit around the table and we’d put newspaper down and roll dumplings for hours. I remember loving that and connecting with my family, and then taking a technique that I learned in the European-style kitchens of pasta-rolling, and using a dumpling dough instead of a semolina-based dough and applying those two techniques, and braising and other styles of cooking, and making something new.”
A homogenous restaurant industry is bad for everyone.
“If you pull black people and women out of the conversation in America's food, we know one thing—it would not be as delicious,” Samuelsson said.
Diversity is "the smartest thing to do."
“Every product that we work on is pushed out toward the diverse landscape,” Samuelsson said. “Therefore, you want [diverse] leadership, mid-management, every level of it to reflect that. It’s not just the right thing to do in February; it’s the right thing to do because it’s smarter business. Diversity, it’s just the smartest thing to do. Because everything we do, we want to reach an audience…who in this audience does not want to reach a large audience?”
Mentorship fosters greatness.
“When you accomplish something, you set a goal and you kill it, that feels really good. So I try to have that resonate in all aspects of my life, and that’s really how I lead my team,” Arrington said. “I’m hard on those guys because I want them to understand what greatness can look like on any level, whether that’s setting up your mise-en-place or putting everything in pre-preparation the night before so you have 20 more minutes in the morning. That can set your whole day in the right direction, and your life, really.”
Big awards lists aren't everything.
"Just because it's not in any list in Zagat or whatever doesn't mean that it doesn't exist," Eddie said.
"I can go on page one of any food magazine to learn about another French chef," Samuelsson said. "So your worth and your value proposition is really how are you willing to guide us to a new experience? That knowing you might take a risk, and no one else has written about [it]."
“Everyone can create, everyone has a story, everyone has something to say,” Eddie said.