Jody Adams, a James Beard award-winning chef and avid traveller, runs and co-owns five restaurants in Boston, including Porto, which focuses on Mediterranean takes on New England seafood. Adams started cooking after graduating from Brown University with a degree in Anthropology and working at a gourmet food store. Here, she shares her take on the power of connecting through food, good leadership, and learning from cultures around the world.
What inspired you to start cooking?
Well, I always cooked. I can’t remember not cooking. My mom cooked from scratch, and she watched Julia Child – it was always really compelling to me.
I had an “a ha” moment about making cinnamon toast when I was six: I figured out that if I left the butter out at room temperature and had the right amount of toast on the bread so that it was still a little soft in the middle, it was great. Learning that food can be handled in different ways to make it taste good was huge. After that, I would say it was when I worked at a gourmet food store. I was like, “OK, this is where I belong.” I learned that the power of food is that it’s a conduit for connection, and the home cooking that I did at the time led me to a restaurant.
I’ve learned a lot about the power of connection and food lately. For the past four days I’ve been in New York with my sister, and she has cancer. Her condition… it’s been tough. The cooking that I’ve done for her has been about connection and cooking what she can eat, things that are healthy, and making them delicious. To be able to cook for her and her husband and her son, to try to take care of them a bit through beautiful, flavorful food, has been another lesson.
Can you point to a moment in your career that taught you about leadership?
Order is really important to me, so I naturally took charge at my jobs. I went from being a counter person at that food store to being in charge and managing employees. I was in my early 20s, and in those early days I was a tyrant as a manager.
Helping customers was easy for me, but managing was something else. At one point I realized this tyrant thing doesn’t work. If you’ve asked someone to do something four times and they’re not getting it, then maybe it’s your communication style. It takes a lot of self reflection.