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A Chef’s Recipe for Collaboration

The night before lock-down in New York City, I celebrated my birthday at downtown restaurant “Balaboosta” with my husband. The soft light and low chatter so indicative of New York’s finest restaurants is a salve I miss sorely these days.

Plate after plate of flavorful Israeli-inspired fare was placed down in front of us alongside crisp cocktails that blurred the night into easy conversation.

Hummus, Whipped Feta with spiced honey and sumac, Beets with pistachio dukka and preserved lemon dressing… Chef Einat Admony’s menu is a cornucopia of delights that reflect the reverent meaning of the restaurant’s Yiddish name: “the perfect housewife and mother”. In a city of millions, a place that feels like home.

To evoke such a strong feeling through food requires not only a leader with vision, but a team who can come together to execute on that vision. Nurturing an environment of both innovation and collaboration can be a challenging mix. After twenty years in New York, with lauded restaurants “Balaboosta”, “Kish-Kash” and “Taim” to her name, Chef Admony has insights on collaboration skills that echo well beyond the kitchen.

How do you get people with very different working styles to collaborate around a single vision?

I think it’s basically to know the people and to look at them, it’s not just expecting something. Strive to use what people are good at. If you have great knife skills, you’re going to do that. I want to him to feel good about himself and slowly I’ll teach him other things so that he can grow. To keep the team together is to create a team that feels comfortable with each other and want to go to work.

What do you think are elements that make for a good leader?

Like in any relationship, any dynamic, it’s super important to listen. You’re going to hear and you’re going to learn so many things that can help you to build the right team. I work in tons of different restaurants, all very, very fine dining. I always felt that in this kind of environment they squeezed every joy of cooking out of me. I don’t want to come to my kitchen and feel like, “Oh, they’re scared that I’m here.” I hate that.

I think a great leader nurtures and teaches people. They want more knowledge. They want to feel that they can grow. I want to follow up on everything that I’m saying so they have assurance that if I say something, it’s going to happen.

What’s a good health check to see how the team is functioning?

It’s very simple. Just by looking at the kitchen, how clean is it? How does the walk-in look? How does the prep-area look? I do a walk through and I understand from how the prep was done. I’m all about the small details.

When I don’t talk enough, when I don’t communicate enough, when I don’t explain exactly what I really want and what should happen, it’s starts getting into trouble. So, for me, it’s nonstop talk to the chef every day, at least have a meeting with everyone, to follow up on every problem that we have and to try to solve those.

What are the elements of a strong team?

Passion. I think that’s the number one, passionate about what you’re doing and being loyal to where you work and who you’re working with. People that have an opinion. When they get excited, they get excited. When they get mad, they get mad. They are willing to challenge themselves and even sometimes you.

How do you think about building a compelling vision or brand?

Understand where you are, what you want to do, and be true to yourself. I think it’s super important for the brand. I see a lot of people have a very weak spine and they will change all the time because they think this is cool: “Oh, I’m going to open poke place. Oh no, I’m going to open a vegan place now.” People that try too hard to be cool can never be cool. I’m sorry. You can’t try to be cool, you can’t force that.

To create a good brand is to have great people around.

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