In a city that prides itself on tradition, Harvest has been one of the mainstays of Boston’s culinary scene since President Carter was in office. But when your executive chef was only born when the New Kids on the Block topped the charts, will-longtime patrons be turned off? The proof is in the pudding for this Harvard neighbor, says general manager Jeff Osowski.
“Chef Tyler Kinnett has an amazing raw talent in him but is also an old soul of cooking. He brings a lot of new ideas to traditional dishes that our guests really love,” says Jeff. “And, of course, they are delighted when he stops by to see if everyone’s happy. It’s a running staff joke that he has a baby face with big blue eyes and long eyelashes, but I think people are focused more on the dishes and picking Tyler’s brain.”
It’s a brain that’s worked at Paul Kahan’s Publican and Thomas Keller’s Michelin-starred Per Se in addition to serving as Harvest’s sous chef since 2012. It made perfect sense for him to ascend the ranks and lead the kitchen he had a hand in revamping with new equipment on the hot line and a new kitchen remodel, along with recent customer-facing interior renovations, said Osowski, who also says Harvest had no reservations about putting its eggs in one basket with a toque younger than 30. “It’s a very challenging industry that requires determination and energy, and Tyler’s got both of those. Plus, he’s a natural leader.”
Twenty-seven-year-old chef Jennifer Grosskruger brings the structure of growing up an Army brat in Germany to Philadelphia’s Ocean Prime as the executive sous chef and says the strength of youth has helped her through some long shifts. “The physicality of working in any kitchen is very demanding; being young and having the energy to commit is an advantage,” she said.
For Casey and Patrick Van Voorhis, the married under-30 chefs of Spoonbar, it’s more about mind over matter. “One of the toughest things about being younger is people associate age with experience,” said Casey. “In terms of employees, you can have someone who’s forty or seventeen and trying to command that respect without being pushy is challenging.” Both she and her husband say the best way to build a team is to lead by example. “No one wants to work with someone who’s delegating all day long,” she joked. “You gotta cook the line and show everyone how to keep the station clean. If your dishwasher is fifty-five, his pride is going to prevent him from asking you for anything — so don’t make him have to!”
The challenges are more behind the curtain than front-of-house — especially if it’s not an open kitchen — says 24-year-old executive chef Akshay Bhardwaj of New York City’s Michelin-starred Junoon. “A lot of Indian kitchens especially are more traditional when it comes to seniority and age, but I’ve been trying to break that barrier by bringing everyone together. It shouldn’t be about your age, but what you bring to the table,” he said.
Bhardwaj’s taken the opportunity to grow his staff with those with an open mind, whether it’s other young sous chefs he worked the line with four or five years ago (in their 20s); or his 40-something pastry chef, who he calls a mentor. “We can take risks and bounce ideas off each other — we’re putting together different heritages and cooking from different parts of India.”
What does differentiate him from many others in the kitchen is following a different career path at first that included studying for a business degree at Fordham University, which he is now finishing at Baruch College. Bhardwaj has an advantage when it comes to food costs, inventory, and budgeting — all of the unsexy skills that will never make it on Chopped or Top Chef but are still valuable, he says.
Like Bhardwaj, 23-year-old Jeremy Salamon has a unique background that can’t be recreated no matter what the age — a Hungarian grandma who shaped the way he cooks and has now influenced a menu revamp at The Eddy, located in the heart of all that is cool, the East Village. What he worries about for today’s young chefs is whether they’ll think success will be as easy for them as his fortuitous stints hosting the Food Network South Beach Food & Wine Festival Food Labs. Thanks to his blog, JeremyCooks.com, which he started as a way to connect with other foodie teens across the country, Salamon was able to chop and dice alongside celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Cat Cora.
“You don’t just walk out of high school and college and into an exec role,” he said. “While the kitchen environment is more supportive than I think it was for previous generations, you’ve still got to develop a thick skin — and I had a lot of blood, sweat, and burns to land this job at twenty-three.”
However, the blogger admits that the younger the chef, the more social media will likely be a part of their profile to give diners that exclusive behind-the-scenes access they crave as much as dessert — perhaps giving them a winning edge after all.