and Guest and Pet Care.
I was born in St. Louis, Missouri at Barnes Hospital in 1968. I came from a Protestant background, primarily Presbyterian, with two great-grandfathers on both sides of the family being Presbyterian ministers. One grandparent on each side came from either a Lutheran or a Baptist background. I was close to my grandparents, and the culture of their upbringing was certainly something that became part of how I saw myself. I claim Scottish, English, French, Irish, Danish and Saxon via Romania heritage. (Romania is full of different ethnic groups).
My mother, a graduate of Washington University, was a lifelong educator, starting with early childhood education and the founding of a private school, and finishing her career as a professor of Humanities in the University of Arkansas system. Her husband, my step-father, was a teacher, and then owned a general contracting company, and eventually spent the past two decades of his career as an artist, achieving “Living Treasure” status by the state of Arkansas. He has always been a musician. My father was a lawyer who attended Harvard, graduated from Washington University, and practiced mostly non-profit law, though the firm did not specialize. My mother’s mother was the head mistress of a private school in St. Louis, the Wilson School, which she owned outright for many years. The school is still an institution in St. Louis. My mother’s father was a claims investigator for Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, a skill he learned that he loved while in the Army during WWII. His intellectual hobby was as an avid member of the Council on Foreign Relations.. He was the first of his family to go to college, and his parents were more recent immigrants. My father’s father was a Harvard educated lawyer, and was in private practice with my father for a good part of his career. He practiced law into his 90s. His wife, while not a professional, was mathematics major from Vassar College, and contributed to the family finances through stock market investing.
Because of my family’s cultural prejudice towards education, I definitely felt a pressure to go the traditional route. However, I was miserable in high school and afterwards I worked for a few years cooking, and during that time I took a writing class at Harvard. I did well, and decided I would attend college. I spent a year at Marlboro College in Vermont on a free ride, but after going back for a second year, I realized that I wanted to be a chef. You see, I had been cooking at a retreat where my interest in dance and music intersected with developing a professional skill, and I was making people happy with it. I was feeding the people that were doing what I loved, and being able to make them happy made me feel fulfilled in a way I had never experienced. After taking a stab at college, and continuing to work at the retreat, it was clear that I needed to pursue my career as a chef. I attended the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, NY, which at the time only offered an associate’s degree. That was fine, because I really wanted the opportunity to work in amazing places as soon as possible. The kitchen was the first classroom that really energized me, and my understanding of the world, how things work, why things worked the way they did, started in the kitchen. That said, perhaps my earliest memory of my own personal standards was how particular I was setting the table as a kid – the knife had to go the right way when we set the table, I loved learning napkin folds… I loved it.
My Grandmother Shewmaker was the one who really spoke to this, insisting on rules, “The reason there are social rules is so that people know what to do.” Being attuned to this happened early. It is still a real part of my view of what makes for good service. I wrote an essay based on this experience called “The Direction of a Knife” which is posted on my fairly inactive website. Knowledge of standards is the knowledge of rules, and that is at the core of a personal experience of good service.
I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and left when I was 19. I had an older brother and a younger step-brother, my mom and step-father, my dad and eventually his wife and her brothers that she brought into the family. The first time I attempted cooking I was probably five with my brother. We wanted to make dinner for our mom and dad. I have no idea if it was any good, but I remember how much they loved the effort. It is one of my happiest memories of the family at that point. Later, when my mom remarried, every child had to cook one night a week for the family, take care of ourselves on one night, do our own laundry, and of course, we were responsible for our own rooms. I particularly always loved organizing my records and my books, and had a job when I was 15 where I had to sort empty bottles and cans according to bottler, a task that I loved. It turned out there were all sorts of obscure beers that were being bottled by the same company, and I loved the order to it. When we had company stay over, I was the first one up and made breakfast for them. The home itself was kind of chaotic, so finding order for me was important early; my parents were not good at teaching it. Being an inherently orderly person in a disorderly home is a challenge.
I am genuinely and completely service oriented, and have been long before I was working. I have always been in tune with what is going on with other people, and I think that is a real piece of it.
I serve on two nonprofit boards. These organizations made a difference in my life, and I know they make a difference in the lives of others, and that matters to me. I have done lots of volunteer work in my life, and I expect to continue to. As a chef who manages others, I don’t see myself as the great impresario (although the ego does get satisfied by bringing happiness to others), but it is more complex. My job has always been to make sure that other people have what they need to do their jobs – I serve my employees; I must meet the expectations of my boss, investors, vendors, etc – I serve them; I am in tune with my colleagues and helping their needs get met; and, of course, I meet the needs of my clientele. I have found that if I come from a place of servant-leadership, starting with meeting the needs of those who report to me, everyone else will be happy.
In the kitchen, we have a term called “mise en place”, or, everything in its place. Whether it is the ingredients for a dish, or “mental mise en place”, the concept is the same. Being mentally prepared with knowledge is key, and it is from knowledge that one can act quickly, with a sense of urgency (not panic) when needed, and to be able to think creatively to solve problems. So, my work style comes from a place of being in the moment, but also to be able to see beyond the moment.
I am a good delegator, however, and love to see other people grow and excel. In August of 2015, I had the honor of returning to service of a couple for whom I had previously worked. It turned out to be their final months. After their deaths, I continued to work for the family wrapping up the estate. This ability to think on my feet, be flexible with plans, understand when it was time to make really important decisions (even life and death), were key to a very intense time when the family needed someone who was intimate, but had boundaries. After my employers died, my job changed from the shifting sands of the dying to the complex project management of closing up the estate. Instead of thinking in short term scenarios like at the ER, I was making plans for over the days, weeks, and months to follow and keeping things on schedule. The skills were the same, but how they were practiced were different. I want to say that this particular experience, serving people at the end of life and being present for them and the family when they died, was a game changer in my life. I had never experienced the profundity of that experience previously, and it really has changed the way I see service. My employers needed everything that I could give them, accepted it willingly and graciously, and we all respected each other deeply. I was able to tell them when they needed to do things because they needed to have someone tell them, but I could also ask questions, suggest ideas, and brainstorm with them.
The staff also needed my support and I was able to give them what they needed.
I have pretty high emotional intelligence, so I can adjust my communication for the situation. That said, I like things to be clear, direct, and to the point. I don’t expect others to guess my expectations, and I expect the same. There are often things under the surface, conscious or unconscious, that can get in the way of communication, and when appropriate I will address those things.
In my heart I am a Christian, but do not buy into any particular orthodoxy. Prayer and meditation has played a significant role in my life, and I have read a few Buddhist teachers. As a manager of people, coming from this place of compassion has been really important. I don’t always get it right, but I know I am on the right track.
I particularly love Indian cuisine. I love genuine ramen. I was trained in French kitchens, and will always love French cuisine. Honestly, I think I would try almost anything.
There were three kids in the house growing up, and we were all solidly urban mid-west. Mid-west with a pretty liberal bent. Daniel, my step-brother, went to see his mom every other weekend, and Michael and I would spend time with our father at various times. It was a casual home. We were part of an international network of traditional folk music and dance, so we always had those of that ilk visiting, playing music, or staying while they played a concert. We had house concerts in the home, and monthly group singing. This was the absolute best that our parents gave us, and I am grateful that I have lifelong connections that span continents.
When thinking about my future, I know I will always be in some kind of service. My interests are pretty varied, and there are lots of things I would like to learn more about, and more specific skills I would like to acquire. Entertaining, wines, spirits, good table service are things I will always treasure. I know that I have already left my mark on the lives of others, and that is something that I am proud of. I hope I can continue to do so in whatever opportunities become clear to me. That said, it is clear to me that at this point in my life, I am most interested in continuing work with the elderly.
Top Service Standards are:
Culinary Standards: Undoubtedly, Culinary is the highest of my standards. I am a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, with Honors. I have worked in truly world-class restaurants and hotels, including New York Times three and four star restaurants, Relais & Chateaux properties, and member hotels of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. I also have catered numerous events, both under my own auspices, and under top caterers. My previous Private Service employers have all had very high Culinary Standards as well. Every client has been very different in terms of his or her particular tastes; this challenge has sharpened my abilities as a Private Chef to cater to any particular Principal’s Flavor Profile.
Entertainment Standards: As I have worked Private Service and responsible for implementing the Principal’s Entertainment Standards, I have often played the role of Chef, Waiter, Sommelier, Flower Arranger, and Decorator. I also have a great deal of experience as a caterer, selling parties, to clients, managing the rentals, selecting stemware, flatware, linens, tables and chairs, and all the myriad details that goes with creating a large event. I greatly enjoy creating multi-course dinners with food and wine parings. I have also been responsible for larger gatherings, both formal and casual.
Guest Care and Pet Care Standards. A true Service Heart shows through in his attitude towards serving others. My experiences in retreat environments, catering, hotel work, high end restaurants, and private homes have all been about catering to the needs of the guest, whether temporary or long term. I am well aware that the treatment of guests is something that is of vital importance to many employers, and it is something in which I take great pleasure. I am also an animal lover. I grew up with pets, and currently have two dogs. I have worked in homes where I have had responsibilities for the family pets.
Administrative Standards: Maintaining written inventories, implementing cost controls, managing budgets, and purchasing have all been important parts of my work. I have also been responsible for interviewing, hiring, training, and supervising, as well as disciplining employees with written documentation, and scheduling and managing employee hours, submitting payroll, and scheduling vacations. In hotels and retreat environments, I have been responsible for writing daily task sheets, punch lists for food preparation; writing, coordinating and implementing multiple written menus for a variety of outlets and meals; and writing, maintaining, and costing recipes. In private homes, I have been responsible for soliciting competitive bids from contractors and scheduling work orders, keeping records of purchases, and engaging in negotiations with vendors. As a caterer, I have been responsible for submitting bids to my clients, paying my employees, writing menus, purchasing, and managing sub-contractors.
As a Professional Service Manager, I have superior technical skills, and I take a great deal of pride in what I offer the prospective employer. Through my experiences, I have gained high Standards in Culinary, Entertainment, Guest and Pet Care, and Administration in the Starkey Management System.