The Aspen Food & Wine Festival 2018 was held last weekend, bringing fine wine from the world over, delicious bites, and countless educational sessions for the trade and the public, featuring culinary luminaries such as Jacques Pepin, Ming Tsai, Alex Guarnaschelli, Curtis Stone, Bobby Stuckey, and Stephanie Izard, among others. Food & Wine editor-in-chief Hunter Lewis moderated one of the liveliest panels, “Meet the Masters: Lessons from the Journey,” with chefs Hugh Acheson (Five and Ten), Traci Des Jardins (Jardiniere), Will Guidara (Make It Nice), and Gabrielle Hamilton (Prune).
The panel started off as an at-times heated debate around Hamilton’s decision to partner, along with her wife and business partner Ashley Merriman, with Ken Friedman at The Spotted Pig, but it eventually segued into a host of topics, from talent retention to the financial challenges the industry is facing as a whole. Here are five bits of advice from the Masters at the Aspen Food & Wine Festival 2018.
Make sure and your lawyers read everything with an eagle eye. Acheson, who owns multiple restaurants urged restaurateurs to make to get an iron-clad contract, particularly when it comes to real-estate deals. “The key [to success] is a really good lease.”
Know before you grow. “Growing your company is not necessarily the best way to make more money. When we grow it’s not out of financial lust; it’s out of excitement. We love creating these worlds. And as much as we love creating these worlds over and over again, you get an itch to do it again. And I think that we’re in a phase when you start growing, you make less money b/c you have to build out this entire infrastructure to support that group. And I find myself saying, “Man, maybe we should have stuck with the one; that would have been much easier,” said Guidara.
Be ready to do anything. No matter how high up you climb in the ranks or how vast your empire is, you always need to be prepared to roll up your sleeves to get it done. “If you don’t like to wash dishes, you shouldn’t be a chef.” Des Jardin.
Invest in your team. Guidara said that part of what motivates his Make It Nice group’s growth is creating opportunities for his team members to develop professionally. Acheson also stressed the importance of putting time and effort into your staff to keep them motivated and excited.“If people don’t learn, they don’t stick around,” he said.
Don’t believe the hype. Fine dining is alive and well. Of the wave of fast-casual restaurants, including his own Made Nice in Manhattan, Guidara bristled at the idea that higher-end experiences are nearing extinction. Rather, he noted, “Fine dining starts to feel easier [in comparison to fast casual]. It’s a helluva lot easier to try to make money on a $400 meal than a $14 one.”