#ChefColumns—Dana Cree on Relationships

A wee reminder that when you're constantly surrounded by the future of your industry, every moment counts.

January 14, 2016 ● 3 min read

My new job began with a conversation about milk, almost a year ago.

1871 Dairy, where I now make my professional home, is optimistically set to open its very first storefront in Chicago this spring. We are currently distributing a small amount of milk and yogurt to restaurants in the city, and have a few products available at a handful of small grocery stores and farmer’s markets in the city. As a new partner in the company, part of my job became...defining my job.  

That means I was the one who chose the term Culinary Director to classify all that I do, which usually means “person who makes stuff with the milk,” and occasionally means “person who figures out how to build a production cycle so a lot of stuff can be made safely and efficiently.” It’s an extension of my own passion for transforming dairy into delicious things—something that happened regularly in a pastry kitchen, but not something I ever imagined I’d be on the other side of.   

It’s a big change from the high-end restaurant kitchens I’ve worked in for the last 15 years, Blackbird among them. Most of those jobs were gained the same way; I applied for an open position, sent in a resume and cover letter, sat for an interview or two, and waited until the hiring manager made their decision. My experience in the dairy world before now—none, beyond a familiarity with the product—was so limited that I doubt I’d have warranted an interview had I sought one out.  

What this is meant to say is: if you’re working in a kitchen, look at the people around you. The cooks on the line, the bar backs, the hosts, the account reps, the customers; these people are the future of this industry. We rarely think that far in advance in a kitchen. But take into consideration your own behavior towards the people around you while working. You might think them incidental, but it’s just as likely that the prep cook you fight with over mise en place will open a restaurant in a handful of years. When they need a pastry chef, they will immediately scroll back through all the pastry cooks they’ve worked with for potential candidates, and ask others around them to do the same. Will they remember you as pushy and indifferent, or will they see you as a potential asset to their team?

That intern you’re taking your stress out on could be your foot in the door for a job at the three Michelin-starred restaurant you’re eyeing in Europe. That rep you yelled at might be the key to a position outside a restaurant kitchen when you’re tired of the stress and long nights, or want to start a family. You are working with the future of this industry right now. The chefs that will top the charts in 10 years are on someone else’s line at this very moment. Chances are, it’s you. So don’t forget about the people delivering the food to your kitchens, and the people who represent those companies. I’ve seen a lot of loud, angry words dispensed in that process, and while you may think you’ll never be on that side of the fence, the grass starts to look greener when you tire of the chef lifestyle.  

My interactions with a man who delivered milk to me over the years became the foundation for an unbelievably awesome job I might not have gotten otherwise. The conversations you are having right now, the way you interact with the people who share the day with you in a restaurant, all have the potential to grow into something wonderful. 

Dana Cree counts 15 years in the restaurant industry, including three years in savory before making the leap to pastry. In 2015, Dana made the leap from restaurants to the world of dairy, taking a position as Culinary Director for 1871 Dairy in Chicago. She is documenting the process in a multi-part series, here on ChefsFeed. | Original image via Caleb Condit