sunrise, sunset

One of the great privileges of my consulting work is being alongside brilliant people who work their asses off for their dreams.


Sometimes our work together is defining, building and growing those dreams. I am in awe of people sweating blood to meet expectations and deadlines and payrolls, mortgaging their futures and pushing themselves (or being pushed, I’m sure they’d tell you : ) in ways they didn’t know they were capable of. 

Along those paths are many pits and trolls and dark corners and bruises. Of course, one of the things that happens at least once, and sometimes many times in an entrepreneur’s life is having to close up shop, sell or wind down a business. Because sometimes you need to see when it’s time to quit and walk away. And the people I work with who reach the end of that path do so with grit, with grace, and with integrity.

Many times over the years I have bought and sold restaurant equipment and supplies at auction or in person. When I use the things I buy, I’m mindful of the hands that have held these knives, stirred stews and sauces in these pots, begged and borrowed the money to put food on these shelves. When we work in food businesses, we step into the stream of all the people in all the history of all the world who’ve fed people for money from the beginning of time. Someone made, bought and sold those Greek amphoras, the big pots that feed hungry people in field kitchens, and the good knife that was passed on to me with love. I wonder sometimes if the people who sweat over the sinks and stoves that were once part of my shiny dreams feel their place in that stream. I hope so. And I hope they find their own shiny dreams.

Entrepreneurs, hustlers at heart, know that no ending is truly a dead end. The lessons learned, the reputations built, the professional and personal relationships go along with you, lay the rails for the next adventure. When you live and work with integrity, as my clients do without fail, there is no shame and should be no regrets.

dea-thoil don obair atá déanta go maith

Forward, never back

Someday I'll think it's funny that a food safety geek like me has been knocked out of service on the weekend of New Year's Eve by what appears, to all observation, to be norovirus. My bruised ribs won't let me laugh just yet. 

What I do get to do, though, is spend hours upon hours in my favorite room, in my cozy couch fort, something that never happens IRL. Too busy, too tired, too crowded. But now, in a silent house, there is time to look at the pictures, pick up the books, snuggle in.

And as I dutifully reflect on the year turning, I feel surrounded by wisdom, and courage, and caring. Working with entrepreneurs, and those who support them, is the most amazing gift. Every single person I've met and worked with this year has inspired me to learn more, work harder, be braver. 

Here are some of the people I've been fortunate to work, or cook, or problem-solve with this year:

- a brilliant businessman, always blazing his own trail, who says, "I'm broke, I'm not poor!" Right there with you, brother....

- a whip-smart marketing teacher who opened the door for people to talk about failure, and where it takes us if we'll let it

- a man gifted as baker, teacher, grower, guide and father who is finding the ways to weave all those together to meet the needs of his, all of our, communities

- a talented woman with a crystal-clear vision of her company's future who surrounds herself with smart people, invests in their well-being, works her ass off and trusts the process (well, let it be said that I know several of these, so that's fun!)

- a sweet family who 'landed the plane' of a failed business dream with good grace and generosity, despite blows to their trust and faith

- so many innovative people working in, or on, incubators and accelerators and spaces for people to dream and work and create

- a woman who, seeing woman-owned businesses folding at unacceptable rates, starts thinking and collaborating in new ways to find solutions

- a very young man who spent many of his years in solitary confinement, and is just now, against all odds, beginning to learn what the world may hold for him when he leaves prison because he is even smarter and wiser than he knows, and more importantly, is kind and open

- advisors, inspectors who really do want to help and will, for the price of a call, a visit, a beer  : )

Food business, and entrepreneurship, are not for everyone. But anyone can try to bring their dream to life. In some ways, it's never been easier. Look around you, find your community, build on solid ground, and never stop believing in yourself. Reach back, and reach out. No one succeeds alone; we are stronger together.

A year ago I could not have imagined where I'd be today, and neither could you. So in the dark, cold days stay warm, surround yourself with good people and good books, and trust that your hard work can take you where you need to go.

Thank you for your trust in me, the gifts you've shared, the lessons you've taught.


Happy New Year.


Yes, you ARE a runner.

Last weekend my local running club hosted the second Hillsborough Half Marathon and 5K.  I love running, but more than that, I love runners, in all their variety. As a volunteer, my favorite thing is the Very Important Job of course marshal, which involves standing at weird bends on a course so runners don't get lost or bang into each other, especially by mile 10 when they start to get punchy.  It also offers an opportunity to experience a tiny piece of every single runner's race.

The price they pay for safe passage at my post is tolerating my greeting, song and dance. Can't help myself. Because I am not the encourager. I stand there awash in inspiration and encouragement from the bold, the brave and the foolhardy alike. Not unlike my business clients, there are always a few who signed up, showed up, and, probably in the dark pre-gun hush, said to themselves, "....oh, shit. I don't know how to do this."

And, they line up at the starting line because they're already there and shoe'd up. Then the anthem is sung in the pre-dawn light, the crowd cheers, the feet start pounding and the pack moves along. Then the pack separates out a bit, and runners begin running their own races.

At my post, mid-race, one woman came along (slow, but not last, still in the pack), and when the nearby cheerers yelled "GO RUNNERS!", she said in a low voice, "I'm not a runner." I heard that. I wanted to run alongside her and say, "Yes, you ARE, dammit. You ARE a runner, and braver and stronger than thousands and millions who will never do this thing you are doing right this minute." And I hope someone told her that when she got home hot, sore, tired, thirsty and hungry from her good effort. And I hope she does it again and again until she understands just how bad-ass she is.

And to people who are in the throes of a business that is turning out not at all like they thought it would, that feels like a runaway horse, that is scary and overwhelming and hard, I share Seth Godin's words:

"You're doing it wrong.

But at least you're doing it.

Once you're doing it, you have a chance to do it better.

Waiting for perfect means not starting."





Quintessential summertime fruit, peaches are zipper-fruits! Sweet or savory, centerpiece or topping, cocktail or frappe, fresh peaches are an endless delight and inspiration.

When friend Tucker Jessup and I cooked at the Greensboro Curb Market a few weeks ago, we made a few simple fun things to share for which, it should be said, we had no recipes. Market-fresh food requires none! I brought a small pantry stash with me (fresh ginger and lime, maple syrup and brown sugar, butter, salt and some spices) and we were given boxes and bags from market vendors. We just started slicing and cooking, incorporating ideas from some of the hundreds of people who wandered through and tasted, stirred, suggested, shared. I finally got around to cleaning up our notes, and the ‘recipes’ are below, along with some other favorites we wish we’d gotten to.

Obviously, the best way to eat a peach is outside in the grass, slightly bent at the waist and slurping. But since peaches grow on pretty big trees, and peach trees bear heavily, generations of peach lovers have given us about eight thousand ways to use them while they’re in season, and a few more for how to preserve their scrumptiousness. Grab as many as you can while they’re in season, eat your fill and fill your freezer.

Raw peaches are fine for almost any recipe, but if you prefer no fuzz or the brighter color, (especially when freezing), it’s easy and fun to blanch. That just means setting them a couple at a time into a pot of boiling water for about a minute, carefully lifting them out, then dunking into a big bowl of ice water. As soon as you can touch them without burning off your fingerprints, slip the skins off. The colors of blanched peaches are breathtaking,  so it’s fun to try even if you didn’t need to!

Remember: only buy ripe peaches, never fuzzy rocks. If they’re not just slightly soft and incredibly fragrant, you’re in the wrong season: go buy something else. Or use frozen peaches! Don’t try to shoehorn a bad peach into a good dish, it’ll only make you sad.


** A hundred years ago, I ran a little downtown market at which we sold, among other things, local produce. A nearby peach grower kept us in cases of the most delectable peaches. When ‘stuck with’ a couple extra cases, I blanched, froze, jammed hundreds of peaches. Squirrels thoughtfully transplanted pits from the compost pile, so now I have several lovely peach trees in my yard. They only bear enough fruit for those squirrels’ descendants (did they plan ahead?!) but I get to cut armfuls of twigs to bring in and force for gorgeous peach blossoms in late Winter!


tucker’s peach salsa-on-the-fly

Tasty by the spoonful, would also delight a piece of fish, or grilled chicken, or a pork tenderloin! Try filling some warm tortillas with shredded lettuce or cabbage, bits of cooked fish, shrimp, chicken, beef or pork and a scoop of this. May be best at a picnic table outside : ) I would also totally spoon this over a salad and add some good cheeses and nuts!


about 3 cups of finely cut peaches, smaller than diced, but don’t get crazy

1 jalapeño, de-seeded first; use gloves! Trust me on this : )

1 small white onion, minced

1 large sweet pepper, minced

1 large tomato, minced


half a lime or a splash of apple cider vinegar

Get a big bowl, cutting board and super-sharp knife. Start with peaches, then add the other ingredients as desired, occasionally tossing, juicing, tasting until you think it’s perfect.

When you find the flavors you love best, write it down and put your own name on the recipe.


tucker’s what-the-heck peach sauce:

It ended up with a pretty bold and fascinating flavor. Everyone who tasted it raised their eyebrows, and then thought about how they might use it! Play!

2 tablespoons butter

a couple of peaches, thinly sliced or diced

a 1” chunk of fresh ginger, peeled

fresh basil, chopped

apple cider vinegar (we used about half a cup)

honey (we used a few tablespoons)

salt (just a sprinkle)

ground cardamom (a pinch)

half a lime

In a saute pan over medium heat, warm butter and peaches for a few seconds, stirring. Before peaches soften, add all other ingredients, and a squeeze of lime juice (or sprinkle of vinegar). 

Let it all simmer for a minute or so, stirring. Think about what you’re going to put it on, and adjust. Pork chops? Add a bit more tang. Ice cream? Maybe a bit of cinnamon? Shrimp? Maybe add a bit of hot sauce, or a minced jalapeno! It’s done when the peaches soften and you like it. 

This is another recipe to taste, play, learn something about what you like.


peaches and cream grits (or ‘a cali-jersey girl moves to the south’)

Sweet grits! Don’t turn your nose up until you’ve tried them. Makes four cups, serving size is up to you : )

2 cups water

1 cup half-and-half

1/2 tsp salt

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup quick grits

2 ripe peaches, diced

2 tablespoons maple syrup (or brown sugar, if that’s what you’ve got)

In a saucepan, combine water, half-and-half, and salt and bring to a boil. Slowly add grits (as one Southern cook told me, “one at a time” : ) whisking until well mixed and back at a boil. Lower heat and simmer for five minutes, whisking often. This is not the time to go read the newspaper.

Stir in peaches, butter and syrup and simmer one more minute, stirring well.

Adjust flavors as desired!



There are so many more recipes I wish we’d had time to make. Clearly, I need an editor.



in a blender, combine a peach or two with a bit of mint, lime juice, basil, lemon balm, or any combination; blend until super-smooth, adding water or cream until it is soup! Garnish with a drizzle of cream and a sprig of something pretty


to bright, fresh lettuces and greens, add some salty ham, the cheese you love, and a sliced raw peach or grilled peach halves; drizzle with a bit of olive oil or that peach salsa you made


cobblers, crisps, crumbles, buckles, clafoutis, fools, pies, cakes, dumplings, fritters, ice cream, poached peaches, sauteed peaches and cream

party food

wrap slices of peach in prosciutto and toothpick

top baguette toasts with a bit of brie, a slice of peach, and a sprinkle of fresh bacon crumbles

top fresh baguette slices with ricotta, peach slices and fresh thyme

frappes and smoothies

blend fresh or frozen peaches with any combination of other fruits, berries, herbs

add water and ice as needed for light flavors, or milk, coconut milk or soy milk for smoothies


fill a baguette or other roll with brie, thinly sliced salty ham and fresh sliced peaches



pina coladas!



bourbon anything!


slice peaches into any baking mix or quickbread recipe

peach pancakes

peach, cream cheese, pecan stuffed french toast… and a nap

slice into any hot cereal

mix into good granola with yogurt 

PS: I’m one of several chefs and cooks who would be happy to come to your market, house or school and cook with you, your class or homeschool group, your family, civic group or bunch of friends. 
Let’s master some basic kitchen skills, and play with whatever foods you love or want to learn about, and when we’re finished you’ll have recipes, new skills and great memories.
Use your imagination and let’s put together a class!
tucker dani peackes.jpg


Food safety and sanitation (have I lost you yet?) is, in my opinion, the most important thing restaurants, caterers and food trucks do behind the scenes. Foodborne illness really is a thing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million instances of foodborne illnesses occur annually in the U.S., resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. But as often as we eat out, we pretty rarely get sick. That’s because we have a strong system of inspections, training and education for foodservice professionals.

Many years ago, kids, there was a different emphasis on food safety and training. “Health inspectors” strongly encouraged training and certification, and if someone with that training was present when they inspected, you got two extra points on your score. Many people felt that inspectors were there to “catch you”, which set up an entirely unnecessary adversarial relationship.

Fast forward, and we have the FDA Food Code and “health inspectors” are called Environmental Health Specialists, and food safety training is not optional, and you don’t get extra points. And they truly are specialists. Every single inspector I ever met (and I’ve run kitchens in Wake, Orange, Durham and Chatham Counties) truly wants to help people do the right thing. They know stuff, and are valuable partners in getting it right. It’s pretty simple, really: “The goal of each inspection is to identify and correct any conditions that might lead to foodborne illnesses.” Or as one client says, one of the top three things she knows her business could die from is killing someone.

So the food safety and sanitation work starts when someone is planning a business. That’s when, if you didn’t already know, you learn about foot candles and toxins, can sinks, spore-formers, FRP, campylobacter and grease traps. There’s a big fat book to guide design, installation and construction, and people like me help make sure that new kitchens meet these standards AND work for cooks on the ground. And then you train, train, train, formally and informally, and if you're smart, you learn from every inspection.

You do not just get 100. You work right and live right day in and day out. Because scurrying around when the inspector walks in the back door is not a food safety plan. Not only is that not effective, it is entirely beside the point. It’s actually easier, in the long run, to do the right thing as a matter of procedure, and those specialists, to a man and woman, really do want to help.

So when you see that 100, know that there’s a great deal of dedicated effort on the part of the operation and the health department. And when you see 100, congratulate people, and share pictures here so we can re-post and all celebrate!

thyme to eat.jpg
100 alfredos two.jpg
100 alfredos.jpg

The Carolina Table

As an adopted daughter of Hillsborough, smack-dab in the middle of North Carolina, I cannot be relied upon to be unbiased about writing or food. Everything I tell you will be glittered by the fact that I can walk a mile from my house and greet neighbors who contributed to this collection. And that I could carry home with me for dinner any number of fresh meats, some of the finest cheeses in the world from cows and goats I could pet if I wanted to, collard greens, berries and medicinal herbs, handmade chocolates of astounding artistry. On my morning run I pass beer brewing, bread baking and barbecue smoking.


This is not normal, and I know it, and I’m grateful every day.


So in gratitude, I leap at an opportunity to review such a collection. Eat it up.

The Carolina Table lays out stories about beloved food and community the way aunts and great-aunts in Nancie McDermott’s The Family Reunion laid out their best dishes on clothed tables at the Schley Grange. Be a hungry child, walk beside the long tables crowded nearly at eye-level with best pickles in cut-glass bowls, deviled eggs on proper deviled egg plates, Aunt Julia’s chicken pie, “threes” and “actual vegetables”, then the dessert table with “flights of pies”, fresh coconut cake, black walnut fudge and peach cobbler. It’s how I felt as I read this collection. My plate was over-full, and I kept coming back for more.

Reading The Carolina Table also feels like speaking your blessings out loud, with gratitude. Richard Chess’s Make It Holy about his “Sabbath Tribe” is a heart-full celebration of rituals of food, history, scripture. Bridgette A. Lacy’s Mater Day reminds us that we still yearn to gather together over good, good food at its glorious peak.

I recommend that you sit upright reading, so as not create an unsafe situation when you read Michael Parker’s Let’s Cook, EXCLAMATION POINT,  including a remembrance of his father’s Scrambled Hamburger (“apparently his hamburger did not need any help”) or Stephen Petrow’s The Pies That Bind, a cautionary tale about complacency.

In three brief pages, Lenard D. Moore’s An Onslow County Tradition sings a ballad of land and sea, fatherhood, abundance, salty, sweaty work and contentment, memories of which cannot be erased by heartbreak, death, or bulldozers. 

Diya Abdo’s On Food and Other Weapons is a sliver of this Syrian mother, now, here, tucked away in a North Carolina community. And, it is also, of course, the oldest story of all:  an isolated, shy immigrant cook who knows as she breathes that her food will bring people to the table, to the home, to the heart. “The visiting Afghani boys say to ‘tell her that her food is delicious.’  That it tastes exactly like something they eat in Afghanistan.” Her cooking, like Sophia Woo’s dumplings in Vulnerability or Paul Cuadros’  chicken in Pollo a la Brasa Keeps Turning in North Carolina remind us that we are still a messy, delicious community of people from all over the world, that Southern food will evolve as the cookers and eaters are woven in.

In North Carolina and other places, food traditions were nearly lost by the post-war generation of can-cooks, my mother among them. The writers in this collection are conservators, having saved the stories as well as the well-worn recipes, like Lee Smith’s mother’s in The Recipe Box, “soft, weathered index cards covered with thumbprints and spatters”.  And good that they did, for as she says, “our recipes tell us everything about us” and we are handed down treasure.  Jaki Shelton-Green in Singing Tables  says “the ghosts of other tables, other kitchens, remind me that we are all just ingredients and what matters is the grace with which I cook the meal”. 

Zelda Lockhart’s Garden Gate is for everyone who ever thought, “If my ancestors could do it, I certainly can… and should”. She could and did: cheer her triumph. In Zelda’s garden, in Wayne Caldwell’s Ruby’s Kitchen, on the cottage deck in Bill Smith’s Hard Crab Stew, or Jill McCorkle’s grandmother’s kitchen sink in Remembering the Cake we visit the places where love and food and memory meet.

My generation of chefs and cooks show our gratitude in the thriving food scenes from Asheville to Durham to Kinston to Wilmington, and the kids are alright. As Sophia Woo says, despite the intense hardships of building a food business, “What made it worth it was people came to eat.”

In the same way that Nancie McDermott’s family reunion has evolved over years and generations, we may pine and hunger for the meals of those uncomplicated (we imagine) old black and white photographs and supper tables, but we won’t turn down a good takeout chicken leg and biscuit. We still gather and eat, and there is chocolate cake. All is not lost, and these good people remind us of the truest gifts of food, family and communion at our Carolina tables.

The Show Does Go On


Here’s a story about the best wedding catering gig ever,  featuring a great messy explosion.

It was a sparkling, gorgeous Carolina day, and friends and relations gathered at the home of the bride’s family for a ceremony and feast for a beloved couple.

For those of us working in the kitchen, the day had started early with lots of food prep. Staff and food were all gifts to the bride and groom, great lovers of outstanding food before anyone had used the word ‘locavore’. Most of the bounty had been personally caught, gathered, produced and brought by people with reverence. And as the guests moved away from the house, down towards the water for the ceremony, we swung into gear from prep to service. In a professional kitchen, this shift in energy usually begins with the traditional pre-service meeting. As one writer said of many kitchens this ritual often goes like this: “Your shoes are dirty,  you can go home early, and we’re out of sea bass”. But this job was different, a labor of love. So the pre-service meeting was sweet, a time for the young chef in charge (a friend of the bride’s family) to reflect on how fortunate we were to have this fun opportunity and the beautiful food to work with. We gathered, breathed in gratitude, then moved with quiet purpose, first foods in the oven to cook, much more to follow.


CRACK……. BANG!!        ……..TINKLE-CRUNCH…..


The loud explosion of Pyrex pans holding the first round of appetizers reduced the bottom of our only oven to a four-inch sludge of sauce, meat and broken glass.

Chef, with a cool, scary-calm demeanor that belied his youth said, “OK, there's a new plan. I’m going outside for a minute, and when I come back, I'll let you know what it is.” We waited in silence.

I like to imagine he looked up at a sky just like this one I saw the other day. And he did come back with a plan. Soon cooks were scattered among the nearby neighbors’ houses and ovens, while children and servers ran plates and platters through woods and yards, and all was well. I’m not aware that the family or guests knew what a kaleidoscope of effort went into serving the food that day. And I don’t know where that chef landed in his career, but I know they’re lucky to have him.

Life in the culinary world brings an amusing array of potential and actual disasters, as my peers will attest. It’s not a matter of IF it goes to hell, but WHEN it goes to hell. In my experience, you’re not truly a seasoned chef until you learn how to feed people with a smile when there’s no water, or when there’s so much water the ceiling has caved in. Or when the food is being finished with a blowtorch because someone along the line dropped a very big ball, and it doesn’t matter, because it’s on your shoulders now to make sure no one ever knows how the pretty, delicious, safe food got on the plates and forks.

Lorne Michaels is one of my heroes. He’s been creating and producing Saturday Night Live for forty years. He says,

”We don't go on because we're ready; we go on because it's 11:30.” 

Remember: disaster is not failure, nor is failure necessarily disaster. When the crew around you is looking to you for leadership, hold your head up, keep your game face on, and breathe deeply.

The show does go on.

When You Find Yourself In A Hole, Stop Digging!

This seems so simple. And yet. And yet! 

We are so often

off the rails

so we’ll

toss the baby out with the bathwater

while we’re

going down the rabbit hole


throwing good money after bad

on our way

down the slippery slope.

There are so many quotes because it’s our human nature to take the downward path, once we’ve started down it. Where are all the songs about the high road? Nope. It’s all about falling off the narrow and virtuous path because it’s what we do.

But we don’t have to stay in the ditch, acting as if it was our original destination.

How do you snap back your brain, grab a lifeline, re-focus your energy and attention?

First, forgive yourself. If you don’t forgive yourself, you dig the deeper hole of shame and regret, from which it might feel like the best next steps are to move that project to the bottom of the pile, take a nap, an early happy hour, pretend it doesn’t matter.

So forgive yourself.

And then, because it does matter, use a lapse as data. I’ve learned that if I’m procrastinating, it’s (usually) for a reason. And if I give myself time and space to accept that, and listen to myself give the reasons, they’re usually good ones! So instead of adding guilt to the negativity, I can make a note of the reasons, see which ones hold water, re-align my priorities, and come back at a better time, in a better frame of mind. The loop of recrimination serves no purpose. 

Have the courage to ask yourself the hard questions!

I spend a great deal of time working alone, and in an effort to be a more effective (my own) boss, I post nearby what I occasionally need to hear. This I always come back to:

“Start where you are

Use what you have

Do what you can.”


Did you ever play with model trains, or racing cars? It might help to physically envision the work of lifting the wheels back on to the track. Remember the good feeling of setting it right, ready for a fresh start? Hold on to that feeling, make the space you need, and then re-focus and dig in.

It’ll be good enough, I promise. 

And I’ll say this, since you’re here. If you are a brilliant entrepreneur planning a dream, a business, a next stage of growth or a way through a mess, remember: this is my job, my work, my calling. Let’s talk and see if I can help you figure out where you are, what you have, and and what you can do. Be in touch!

PS: A brilliant former colleague shared this quote from Rollo May: "It is an old and ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way"


National Registered Dietitian Day

In my experience, when patients enter residential or inpatient eating disorder treatment, they can generally not decide who to hate and fear more; the person telling them that they’re going to eat (the dietitian), or the person cooking and serving their food (um, hello, chef?!).  

In the end, though, you can only move into recovery by facing and overcoming fears and phobias. And upon leaving treatment, people in the programs where I have worked usually moved from absolute fear and hatred of the dietitian to deep, deep gratitude for a strong, caring ally who gave them tools for caring for themselves in the most fundamental ways for the rest of their lives.

In my years of working as a chef in eating disorder treatment, I witnessed what dietitians do in a most direct and inspiring way. They challenged me and many others to use all our culinary skills, as well as gardening, field trips, food education, and many other creative endeavors. Just as eating disorders aren’t caused by food, dietitians are not just about the food, especially in this complicated clinical setting. The best of them have a deep understanding of the incredibly complex ways that food, nutrition, medicine and psychology intertwine (and can sometimes tangle) in our lives.

The picture below is from one of the many field trips we made with our patients to Fickle Creek Farm in Efland, where they explored new perspectives on food. At Fickle Creek, the kitchen garden and at farmer’s markets, they learned how to involve all of their senses in preparingand eating food, as well as the ever-important lessons on gathering eggs and catching chickens.

Working with dietitians to create challenging and compassionate food-immersive treatment gave me a deep and profound respect for their training and dedication. Chefs and dietitians are natural partners in creating the culinary and nutritional framework to support patients in effective treatment and long-term recovery. That chapter of my life was the most fulfilling and rewarding work I’ve ever done, and I am deeply grateful to the dietitians with whom I’ve worked.

Hug a dietitian! 

The Creative Process

  1. This is awesome.
  2. This is tricky.
  3. This is shit.
  4. I am shit.
  5. This might be ok.
  6. This is awesome.

Marcus Romer is a British stage director and actor. Until today you’d probably never heard of a single piece of work he’s done, but now he’s in your head too. With this list, he’s perfectly encapsulated the creative process (and the constant work of entrepreneurs). 

For me it’s true every day, sometimes every hour. For years it’s been a constant chunk of wisdom in front of me, like a sea anchor. Just like my clients, some days I ride scary waves, some days I fly with the wind, sometimes sit becalmed and try to make the most of that time.

A friend of Romer’s points out that the list is also applicable to “cookery, lovemaking and Ikea furniture assembly”. 

You’re welcome.

Common Ground

The other morning I met some new and old friends for coffee, where we lamented the polarizing situations people find themselves in these days. The news (and maybe your facebook feed?) has the tone of a bad reality show: a whole lot of yelling, and not much forward progress. The consensus of the coffee conference was that common ground is desperately needed.

The difficulty seems to be the polarization itself, (over)simply labeled: Conservative or Liberal? Democrat or Republican? Black or White? Northern or Southern? For or Against? Marching or Not Marching? 

It reminds me how much I resent Gordon Ramsay for giving modern chefs a bum rap, and setting wrong-headed expectations for aspiring culinary professionals. He uses his prodigious talent in shaming and berating, separating and alienating, and then people who don’t know better might think that’s the way things are or should be.

For a reality (ha!) check, listen to kitchen godfather Jacques Pepin in an essay for the Daily Meal:

    “In these reality shows, the confrontation and the bitter drama are not conducive to producing good food. There is disarray and pandemonium in these kitchens, as well as in the dining rooms. No one seems to agree on anything, and there are ongoing clashes between the employees, without much evidence of what makes a kitchen work. For the good of his or her restaurant, the chef should be a role model, an educator who probes and advises his cooks, rather than embarrasses them publicly. 

    A good kitchen is quiet most of the time. It is disciplined, well structured, and clean. People who cook there are dedicated and work together. Teamwork is extremely important, as all parts of the kitchen have to work on many of the same dishes. This requires them to work as one unit, like in a symphony when all the parts come together at the end.”

My experience of restaurant kitchens has reinforced my rather meritocratic work philosophy.  Chef is in charge because presumably Chef knows how the work should be done, and the best ones listen and engage. Over the years I’ve worked with many knowledgeable, dedicated, kind leaders. Yes, you can and should set the bar high, but keeping the focus on working toward common goals is the best approach to accomplishing culinary goals, developing culinary professionals…  and for getting along in the world in general, in my opinion.

So the rest of the crew pitches in as able, aspires to learn, and moves up or moves on. The tone of an effective kitchen is competence, and cooperation, not tearing each other down. A good kitchen typically encourages all parties to bring the whole operation up, in their respective roles. If I help you do your best work, we will all shine together. If I help you with your mise, you can do your job better and we all look good. If you help me with this cleanup, we'll all get out (and to beer : ) faster. 

We don’t all have to agree about everything, every day. But when we find common ground in the things that make us human, that relate us to each other,  that are the work we all have to do, we can have a good start on residing peaceably together, and perhaps even finding ways to lift each other up!

The best places you eat are where behind the door, people work hard, mostly get along and take care of each other, and take care of your food because that's their job and their pride. That’s the common ground where they meet and work. They’re not there to stab each other in the back, trip each other up, shame people. And the best kitchens leave strong legacies of mentorship and long-time friendships, and warm memories of great food and welcoming hospitality. Look around. When you find those places, talk them up, celebrate them, spend your money there.

And tell us about them here, so we can all enjoy them. Which are places of warmth, hospitality and common ground? Where have you felt welcome at work (cook friends) or at the table because what was shared was more important than what was different?



“The biggest communication problem is we listen to reply, instead of listening to understand.” 

There are upheavals all around us, and it might seem sometimes trouble is everywhere. And there ARE things wrong in the world, BAD wrong. But sometimes we look through the lens of negative expectations, and then that’s all we can see.

On the other hand, every day I experience smart, talented, creative people who are finding their way in the world, breathing life into dreams, working hard to learn and grow and make things happen. These are people who listen, and take in what is all around them, because they know that only by being ok with what they don’t yet know, and being willing to learn it, can they be the very best at what they do. The older I get, the more true this becomes. There’s not this magical group of people out there who have it all figured out, and the rest of us who don't. Instead, there are people who are willing to admit what they don’t know and constantly educate themselves, and people who build walls around themselves to keep up appearances.

No matter what our work, if we listen, really listen, we will learn from each other what we need to get along, to be successful, to mend and grow our communities, to work on solutions.

So stop worrying about what to say next, or what people might think, and really hear the people around you. Ask, and listen, particularly to those who don’t look or think like you. You lose nothing by listening, and have everything to gain.

Here’s to the end of 2016, and to a 2017 full of promise and possibility. Keep dreaming.

Happy New Year.

Proprietary Interest

Many years ago in a hotel where I worked, I learned some important lessons from a wise man named Jock Gearhart. He was my boss’s boss, a hotel management executive and I’ve had many occasions to be grateful for him. He believed in the concept of “proprietary interest”. It’s more often used as a legal term, but he used it to mean that he wanted every person at each of his hotels, from housekeeper to GM, from bartender to CFO, to act like they owned the place when it came to providing gracious service, keeping things nice, and taking care of business in general. The idea is that if you feel like it is your own business, you will provide the best hospitality you can, and make smart business decisions. 

When I work with clients on staffing, I encourage them to hire for this attitude, and train people with the skills for it, and then empower and trust them. Challenge people to meet this high bar, ask what support they need to meet it. Waiting on the sidelines for someone with more authority or knowledge to handle things does not serve anyone well. In my view, if your service business employs people who feel like they are above, below, or outside the realm of direct and caring service, then you are missing the point of being in a service business.

Properly implemented, a proprietary interest means if a fork is dropped it will be picked up, if a phone rings it will be answered, if a problem occurs it will be solved by people who feel empowered to be of service. There will be no “that’s not my job” (firing words, in my book!). People will do their best to do things right and make things right, and if they make a mistake, they know that their leaders will back them up and re-calibrate as needed. 

Encouraging workers to have a propriety interest enhances everything, allows employees to feel trusted, invested and supported in their work, and creates managers who lead teams instead of micromanaging. I can tell pretty clearly when I’m in a place that has this attitude by the warm, caring and gracious atmosphere. That’s somewhere I want to spend my time and money, and tell people about!

Think of the places you’ve been that exemplify this. Let’s call them out and celebrate them!

On Dithyrambs

Eventually, if you are setting yourself up in business to do a thing, you will have to think, write and talk about yourself and how very good you are at that thing, and put it out in the world. For an introvert, that is an exceptionally hard task. And yet, it is good homework, and I am nothing if not an enthusiastic learner. 

In the process of even deciding what to call the obligatory page-where-people-say-nice-things-about-your-work we came across the word dithyramb. For a word geek, this was like sparklers and champagne.


Oh, friends, it gets better.

Wikipedia teaches: 

“The dithyramb was an ancient Greek hymn sung and danced in honor of Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility”

and “A wildly enthusiastic speech or piece of writing is still occasionally described as dithyrambic”

and “In Athens, dithyrambs were sung by a Greek chorus of up to fifty men or boys dancing in circular formation”

Well. I appreciate Dionysus, and wine, and singing choruses and groups of men dancing as much as the next person, so I am delighted to find a way to use the word.

So, now I’ve done it. Get out of your comfort zone. Say something wildly enthusiastic about yourself, your work. Go do it for someone else. Be ok with praise and dancing and celebration!

And in deep gratitude for Sean and all the other teachers, coaches and cheerleaders who have helped this process along, I introduce the Bigger Tables website, Dani Black, Consultant-In-Chief, at your service.