Rethink Your Talent Pipeline
Hiring lessons from chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson.
June 7, 2016 ● 2 min read
On the morning of Locol's East Oakland debut, co-founders Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson post up outside to consider how their joint mission — revitalizing communities through affordable and masterful fast food — is faring. Well before this spot (or its twin in Watts, CA) was a reality, the collaborative star power behind Locol received the lion's share of attention (Chad Robertson helped with the bread! Redzepi is an advisor!); Choi and Patterson would much rather exalt the mighty virtues of these communities and their staff, and while they're at it, take a moment to quell the universal cries of cook shortages in the industry. Read on for their thoughts on sourcing and retaining great talent in a shifting field. —Cassandra Landry
We've got this huge problem in the restaurant industry: no one can find cooks. But we had three times as many applicants as we had jobs [at Locol]. There are people out there who want the work: it’s our pipeline that's broken. Our preconceived ideas of who's appropriate for which job is holding back our ability to reach out to people.
Our industry, especially at the highest level, is pretty much 90 percent white men. We're drawing from 31 percent of our population, for over 90 percent of the people that are running our high-level kitchens. It's just not right.
There’s also a culture within our profession where young cooks seek out very difficult kitchens. They need that, they want that. There's an aesthetic value that they're attracted to when they're young — they're attracted to plating, to complicated constructions. We came up from those ranks. We can't deny that. I don't know how interested they'll be in [cooking fast food].
You respect a dumpling master, or a woman from Oaxaca making mole. You respect that. You give that it's due, but you don't give a short order grill cook their due. Any young cook, any nerdy cook, is going to geek out meeting Ferran [Adria] or Rene [Redzepi] just as much as they are meeting that dumpling master. We've got to get to that level with fast food in America. There's a lot of development in these recipes, just like a restaurant, and it’s up to us to show them that this is cooking too.
If your heart tells you to pursue haute cuisine, you should pursue it. If your heart tells you to feed as many as people as possible, you should pursue it. One side shouldn't look at the other as lesser. You can't look down on the form. The problem is there's never been a way to get out of fine dining and go feed a lot of people; at [Locol’s] price point, it's fast food, and no one wants to cook fast food if you've been trained.
We've got people who have not only no experience with fine dining, but no access, no way to get into those kitchens — but we’re training them like they were a cook at Coi. What we're seeing is people developing and blossoming into cooks in this really beautiful way. Part of the solution needs to be meeting people in a human way, where they are, allowing them to express their own culture and their own personality within the context of a kitchen in a positive way. You've got to open yourself to that.