On the House is Eater's column that goes behind the scenes of the restaurant business, written by the owners, operators, chefs and others who make our favorite establishments tick. Today, Stefanie Jones of Feed Media shares some advice to budding star chefs and other industry professionals in the spotlight.
You started at the bottom and worked your way up. Now, you're the top dog, in a respected kitchen. People start to hear about you, know your name. You win an award, and then a few more. People recognize you when you go out. This is what it's all about.
It's easy to believe the hype. Chefs are the quarterbacks of the kitchen, getting all the praise and credit for the culinary team's success. We live in a chef-obsessed culture where food breeds fame. Even in Denver, we have our chef celebrities. As exciting as it is to reach the top, don't make the mistake of messing it up once you get there.
Fame is fleeting. Staying relevant takes effort.
Reporters, producers and bloggers wrote about you on your way up, and they support you now. Your hard work and their positive attention got you here. Don't forget that, or them. Be gracious. Conduct the interviews. Provide a quote. It pays to make yourself available to the press.
Once you're famous, everything you do gets magnified.
You can choose not to put yourself in the spotlight - plenty of very famous, talented and respected chefs do. But if you seek out the public's attention - if you want to be the person on TV and in the magazines and at all the high-visibility events, and you get the attention you seek - don't be surprised when you also get the attention you don't seek. You don't get to be in the spotlight one day, and then turn it off when the attention may not be as flattering.
Recognize that people are watching you. All the time. Behave appropriately.
Whether you're making your rounds in the restaurant or heading out on the town, you're no longer anonymous. People may ask to get their picture taken with you. Always assume that picture will appear on social media and restrain yourself from making faces or gestures that will be misconstrued. If you get in trouble - pulled over for a DUI, in a bar brawl, involved in some other unfortunate event - assume the press will find out and be prepared to apologize, if necessary. Always tell the truth.
Haters gonna hate.
The more successful you become, the more people will want to knock you down. Yelp, OpenTable, TripAdvisor and social media platforms are all places where people can safely throw dirt at you without repercussions. You'll occasionally find constructive criticism in those outlets and you should mine that gold if it's there, but many times it's vitriol with no constructive purpose. Those comments are hard to ignore, but try. People are trying to provoke a reaction - don't give them the satisfaction. Know that jealousy is a powerful motivator and, if you're really good at your job, some people will want to pull you down for sport.
Treat everyone with respect. Bad boys/girls in the culinary world rarely last. The ones with longevity, with true careers worthy of emulating, are the ones that have the reputations as good, smart, hardworking, nice people.
Stefanie Jones is the founder and President of Feed Media, a PR and Marketing firm that works with restaurants and chefs as well as technology firms, health care organizations, resorts, retailers and real estate developments.