“How To Be A Better Boss” Transcirpt
Sophia Roe: Hi, I'm Sophie Roe, chef and wellness enthusiast. Did you know that nearly 340,000 or one in five New York city children rely on soup kitchens and food pantries to eat, especially during the summer months when school is out. The folks over at Food Bank For New York City want you to know that unlike school, hunger doesn't take a break. Help them end child hunger by providing meals to families and children in need during those challenging summer months. Visit foodbanknyc.org to learn how you can volunteer, spread the word, and more.
Kerry Diamond: Hi, Bombesquad. You're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe and I'm your host Kerry Diamond. Each week we talk to the most inspiring women in and around the world of food. Let's thank today's sponsors, Le Cordon Bleu culinary schools and Traeger Wood Fired Grills for supporting Radio Cherry Bombe. Some housekeeping. Early bird tickets are available for Seattle Jubilee. I'm so excited to bring the Bombesquad together in the Pacific Northwest to discuss food's new wave on Saturday, November 2nd. We'll be announcing the lineup soon, so stay tuned. I'm actually in Seattle right now doing some research and checking out the scene and eating a lot of food and I could not love this city more. For early bird tickets, visit cherrybombe.com. Today's interview is a poignant one for me. I just closed my beloved coffee shop, Smith Canteen last week. And thank you to everybody who sent me emails and DM's, I really appreciate all your kind words and well wishes.
Kerry Diamond: I was the co-owner for a long time and then for the past year and a half, I ran it with the help of some great people. I learned a ton and made a lot of mistakes along the way, which is why I was very excited to talk to today's guest, Valerie Rubin of US Foods. US Foods is a company that helps chefs, bakers, and restaurateurs run better and more profitable businesses. Valerie is a US Foods culinary innovations consultant based in Los Angeles and she works with mom-and-pop eateries throughout the city. Stay tuned to hear some great advice from Val about creating a company culture, helping your employees succeed, and basically being a better boss and colleague. It's all advice I could have used years ago. Val's advice is applicable to everybody, no matter what industry you're in. We'll be right back after this word from Le Cordon Bleu.
Kerry Diamond: Are you daydreaming about culinary school again? Make this the year your dreams become reality with Le Cordon Bleu, the legendary culinary school. Study classic French culinary techniques and cuisine and patisserie as part of their exclusive nine-month Le Grand Diplôme and graduate into a world of opportunity. You also can extend your course of studies to include culinary management and dedicated internships. Le Cordon Bleu has locations in more than 20 countries around the world and located within some of the best food cities out there. London, Ottawa, Madrid, Bangkok, Tokyo, and of course the spiritual home of cuisine in Le Cordon Bleu, Paris. Turning your daydreams into reality is closer than ever. Visit cordonbleu.edu for more, and let your culinary adventure begin.
Kerry Diamond: Val, welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe.
Valerie Rubin: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.
Kerry Diamond: We wanted to talk to you today because you're one of the people who actually helps mom-and-pops do what they do, right?
Valerie Rubin: Yeah, I do. I mean that's the main staple of what I do every day. In fact, later on today, I'm helping a woman open her new pizza shop. She's got a little vegan pizza shop she's opening and it's Vietnamese American fusion.
Kerry Diamond: Oh my God, wait, a Vietnamese American fusion vegan pizza shop. For some people, that's the dream. That's as niche as it gets.
Valerie Rubin: Well, she's Vietnamese and she really wanted to have that influence in some of the dishes. And plant-based eating, which is what I focus on here in Southern California increased 600% in the past two years. So everybody is asking for vegan and plant-based, gluten-free, paleo, keto. That's what I do here. I give workshops on sustainability and plant-based eating gluten-free. And I find products for our customers and I do recipe development.
Kerry Diamond: Can you tell our audience what you mean by plant-based eating? How do you define that?
Valerie Rubin: So plant-based eating is actually synonymous with vegan. When people started eating more vegan and when companies started marketing, that vegan became kind of a four-letter word because we had hippies in the '60s, and PETA and the mainstream really looks at veganism like something very fringe and very not attractive. So when larger companies like Impossible Burger and Beyond and any of those newer companies you see in Whole Foods, for example, started marketing their products, they started marketing it as plant-based, which became the new sexy term for veganism.
Kerry Diamond: You know, that's so funny because I was at a food conference in Silicon Valley a few years ago and the founder of Just Mayo, what's that company called now? Hampton Creek I think?
Valerie Rubin: Hampton Creek, yes.
Kerry Diamond: He said he would rather cut off his arm than call his products vegan. I thought that was aggressive, but I got the point.
Valerie Rubin: Well, to be quite honest, I do this every day and I don't just work with restaurateurs and chefs, but I work with the customers that come in to those restaurants and the difference between try this vegan item and here we have a new plant-based dish is night and day. It's 100% different. So it just goes to show what marketing can do.
Kerry Diamond: Exactly. So Val, how did you get into this line of work? Do you come from a restaurant family, a food family?
Valerie Rubin: No, I just happened to be obsessed with food. I'm a fat kid, and I was an only child and I had really nothing to do growing up, so I spent a lot of time at home. I mean I come from an immigrant family, so my family is very over protective. I'm a girl, I'm an only child, I'm alone. So they didn't want me to go outside. So I stayed inside and the only thing to do was cook. And my parents both worked, so at three years old, on the weekends when they were sleeping in. I would toddle myself downstairs and get on a chair and cook myself eggs.
Kerry Diamond: Aw, little Val scrambling eggs on a school. Where's your family from Val?
Valerie Rubin: So my mom's side of the family is from the Philippines, so she moved there and she was in her twenties and the rest of her family, most of them also migrated here around that same time in the '70s I believe. My dad's side of the family are actually from here. They're from Pittsburgh but I spent most of my younger years with my mom's side of the family. I grew up in my grandparents house and Filipino families are all very integrated with each other, so I spent a lot of time with cousins and aunts and uncles and my grandmother and like I said, I had nothing to do. So when I wasn't cooking, I would follow my grandmother around the house and kind of watch her cook and make these amazing dishes that took hours and hours. She had a garden and I'd watch her garden. And at this point, I believe I'm the only one that knows any of her recipes now because of that.
Kerry Diamond: Wow. What were some of the things she would make when you were growing up?
Valerie Rubin: She made a lot of stew. Filipino cooking is a lot of stews and a lot of, there wasn't a lot of refrigeration, so a lot of vinegar preservation type methods. So she would make something called Tinola, it's like a chicken soup. It has bitter melon in it. Some people put noodles, my grandmother didn't and she just put vegetables and chicken made with ginger and garlic and then it simmers for a long time and you get that real nice gelatinous texture from the chicken skin and the cartilage. And then the same thing, there's something called Adobo I think, which is very ubiquitous now. Some people make it with pork my grandma made it with chicken, but it's stew with vinegar and garlic and chicken and that stews for a really long time in soy sauce and it gets to be this nice thick saucy chicken dish and you eat it over rice and that's kind of Filipino comfort food.
Kerry Diamond: Adobo is the bomb. We have a recipe for that in the Cherry Bombe cookbook. So jump forward. How did that translate into a career? How did you figure out that you could work in food in a certain capacity?
Valerie Rubin: Well I didn't for a long time. I actually have a musical theater degree.
Kerry Diamond: You have a musical theater degree?
Valerie Rubin: I do.
Kerry Diamond: Can you sing?
Valerie Rubin: I can, I'm not going to, but I can.
Kerry Diamond: My dream is to do a Cherry Bombe talent show because there are so many people in the Bombesquad who have really interesting musical talents.
Valerie Rubin: I would love to. That would be great. I actually went to performing arts high school, similar to fame. It was a boarding school in California, so I did that. And when I was in high school actually, we lived in dorms, 250 people and we had a kitchen, we had a dining hall, but I snuck a hot plate into my dorm room.
Kerry Diamond: Of course you did.
Valerie Rubin: And every Friday night, I would make my friend's dinner. So I was in the bathroom in my dorm room, rolling out pasta with coke bottles and I'd do some crazy things. I'd stuff the chicken and cooked it over the hot plate. Figured out how to do a lot of really interesting stuff with no equipment and no space essentially and that kind of served me pretty well going through college and into my life. But I went to performing arts high school, I just followed that path and got a degree in musical theater. I got a job with some theater company. I toured for a year. I moved back to LA, got a job at Disney Channel. I was doing stand in work and auditioning and I woke up one day and I thought, I hate my life and everybody I know. So I quit. I was 22 I think, 23 and I was living with my cousin at the time and I looked at him one day and I said, "What do you think of me going to culinary school?" He goes, "I don't know why you to do that in the first place," because I had been actually catering and working in catering since I was a teenager.
Valerie Rubin: In my off time I would cook for big parties and events. So I've been doing that and I would do dinners for the family, oddly complicated dinners for people who it would have been happy with whatever. So I went to culinary school and I'm not exactly sure. I'm sure people find this. There's a feeling you get when you are in the place you're supposed to be. And so everything clicks in and comes into focus. And I had never been focused before. I went to culinary school and all of a sudden everything just was clear from that moment. I just kind of moved forward. And I worked back of the house, obviously started in a fry station, garmage and kind of moved my way into a small kitchen on Abbot Kinney and Venice and then took a production baking job and then decided I needed to make a little more money. So I took a front of house job. First I worked as a server and learned to be a bartender then somehow got a job as a staff mixologist at the Hollywood Palladium when they reopened and then spent my time catering and cooking in kitchens and working front of house, running a little bar in Burbank and accidentally somehow got a job with US Foods.
Kerry Diamond: Wow. So you've seen all aspects of how the business works from commercial baking to catering front of house, back of house.
Valerie Rubin: It served me very well in this job helping smaller establishments open and kind of retool their menus and their culture because I've gotten to see what really works and what really doesn't, which I think is the more valuable thing.
Kerry Diamond: And that's what we're going to talk about today because there's been such a boom in restaurants and new restaurants and new bakeries and so many women in our community are opening their own places for the first time, because finally women are getting a little more access to capital and investor money and or crowd funding and venturing out on their own. So we wanted to talk to you about what some of those common mistakes are and how to avoid making them.
Valerie Rubin: Absolutely. I'm happy to do that.
Kerry Diamond: When you work with a new client, where do you begin?
Valerie Rubin: I start by asking them, what do you do? What is it that you want to do? And typically people will focus on the food, which is great, but I think one of the biggest mistakes business owners will make in the beginning is they focus on what they do and not who they are. So you kind of miss your own culture and the thing people don't realize is you have a culture whether you realize it or not. So you have an opportunity from the beginning to really set that tone and tell people who you are and not just what you do. And if you do that properly, you will really hook into something emotional in your clientele. That's what keeps them coming back. You don't go to Sprinkles because it's the best cupcake ever, you go to Sprinkles because it took something from their childhood and makes them feel good. The culture that their workers gave off. How nice everybody is, how the cupcakes look, all of that is part of their culture. And if you can hook into someone's emotional buttons, you'll have them for life.
Kerry Diamond: Right, because I know it's places like LA and New York are different, but you can get a lot of great food in a lot of different places today. So what is that that gets people to come back? And a lot of times it's the people, not the food.
Valerie Rubin: Exactly. Absolutely.
Kerry Diamond: All right, so what's the next step?
Valerie Rubin: Organization is a really big one. So if you're needing access to capital, obviously you'll have a business plan, but that business plan doesn't necessarily lay out how you're going to go about executing everything. So you just because you know what you want to do doesn't mean you know how you're going to do it.
Kerry Diamond: That's the understatement of the year. Sorry, continue.
Valerie Rubin: No, it's absolutely true. I meet with people all the time and they're like, "Here's what we're going to do," And I say, "Okay, how are you going to do that? And they're like, " We don't know! That's why we're here." Something is hard. So, having the plan to execute is really key. And the thing about it is I work with a lot of people but I worked with a lot of female business owners that came from other backgrounds. The woman I'm working with today, she came from real estate. I opened recently a cafe in San Marino. I'm the owner. She came from the banking industry. And these people, they love food, they want to open a restaurant and that's amazing and they have really great recipes and really great ideas but never having worked in a restaurant before, it's hard to see that second step.
Valerie Rubin: That execution step, that organization steps. So that's kind of what I work with and I feel fortunate because I get to work with a lot of women and the women that I work with are so hardworking and so organized and understand that when they're given a plan and an instruction, following that instruction is going to make them successful. And that's not always the case with everyone. So I feel fortunate in that I get to work with these women and they follow the instruction and then they're successful and I get to walk in here six months later and see that they're busy and that people are loving their food and loving their culture and they are not pulling their hair out anymore.
Kerry Diamond: We'll be right back with Valerie after this quick break. Let me introduce you to Traeger Wood Fired Grills. A company that has revolutionized cooking outdoors. I had the opportunity to see Traeger Grills up close and in action at a special event we did this summer in the Hamptons. And let me tell you, they are beautiful pieces of equipment. Some of our favorite chefs proved just how versatile and easy Traeger Grills are to use. We had grilled grapes. Yes, you can grill grapes and they are so tasty. They pair beautifully with burrata and grilled bread. We also had delicious grilled vegetables, beef tenderloin that was as soft as butter and even a stone fruit galette. I had no idea you can make baked goods on a Traeger but you can.
Kerry Diamond: Traeger Grills infuse your food with wood fired flavor. You can't say that about a charcoal or gas grill. Cook Alfresco and do it hot and fast or low and slow, however you like. Try it on a Traeger. Visit traegergrills.com to learn more. Let's talk about hiring because when I had my own coffee shop, I found that was one of the biggest challenges because when you're a small place, when you're a single unit and you have a small team, losing one person just upsets everything. So a lot of times you just have to hire very quickly and you can't necessarily do this long luxurious search for the world's best employee. How do you coach people in terms of hiring when you have to hire very quickly?
Valerie Rubin: So I kind of focused on three things. I focus on attitudes, we're intuitive, people are intuitive and some people are just good at interviewing. It's not a hundred percent accurate, but when you sit down with this person, do you feel comfortable with them? Do they feel like they're trying to intimidate you? Do you feel like you could give them an instruction and they would be obedient, for lack of better word. Are they going to fit with the rest of your team? What kind of vibe do you get from them? So that for me is always the first step. It's like if I get a bad vibe from someone, I'm really going to trust my intuition because that has served me very well. Step two, I try to advise the people I work with. Give them a task to do whether that's hey, can I just have you make me a coffee or grab me these two things from the kitchen, see how well they execute that task because sometimes you can tell very quickly, if you ask somebody, and this is my test in my kitchen, I'll ask somebody, hey can you go to the dry storage and grab me these two cans?
Valerie Rubin: And I'll tell them vaguely where it is and see A, hey how long it takes them to go, if they find it and typically it's not something very difficult, but if they get me the correct or the wrong thing and then I test their patience just a little bit by having them go back and get me something else immediately. And again, sometimes the hardest people to work with on your staff are people that are impatient, people that are kind of over it or people that are trying to take charge over essentially you the owner. So those are the things I try to really avoid when hiring someone and I look for things like a good attitude, someone who's really oh, no problem, pretty laid back, but still task oriented. I try to look for that. I also always advise people when they're opening and this is a really hard thing to do, it kind of goes to the financial piece. I always tell people, hire twice as many people as you need in the beginning.
Kerry Diamond: Whoa, that's a tough one.
Valerie Rubin: I know. I focus a lot on runway. It's a really hard thing to do, but inevitably what happens, and I'm 80% sure this happened to you is you will hire five people because you need five people and by the time you have a week to train them, by the time you open, three of those people have dropped out and now you are trying to run a business with two people. So I know it's a little bit of extra runway, but I always advise, hire twice as many people as you need. By the time you open, you will have lost half of those people.
Kerry Diamond: Wow. But if you don't, then you have to fire them. That's painful.
Valerie Rubin: I've never heard that happen.
Kerry Diamond: You've never had that happen? That's funny. But you do need to be able to hire and fire and that's the part that nobody ever wants to think about.
Valerie Rubin: Absolutely.
Kerry Diamond: But you're so right about the intuition. 100% I feel like every job I've ever had when I didn't trust my gut, that's when things went south.
Valerie Rubin: Absolutely.
Kerry Diamond: What else, Val? What are some other tips in your toolbox?
Valerie Rubin: So I'm a big advocate of the prep list. That goes back to the organization thing. Having clear direction for yourself every day and having clear direction to your staff every day is key I think. The more specific you can be the better is my motto. So if you can give everybody on your staff a list of things to do every single day and how much of that they need to do. So if it's your back of house staff, give them a prep list of Monday here's what you do, Tuesday, here's what you do and here's how much, so those pars are really important. And then front of house as well, if you give them a list of Monday, we're going to clean the filters on all of the water jugs, we're going to make these three things. We're going to clean the counters every day and give them those tasks to do, it really prevents people from standing around, number one but also gives them a sense of purpose. So every time they walk in this restaurant, I know exactly what I need to do and where I need to go.
Kerry Diamond: Right, you mentioned pars. Tell everyone what a par is.
Valerie Rubin: It's the amount of something you have to have on hand. So your par is the level of which of the item you need to have. So if I say my par is two four quart containers of cut tomatoes and I have one four quart container, I'm going to make another four per container so I have two on par at all times or when I have that on my prep list.
Kerry Diamond: Got It. I mean, you're so right about writing everything down. When I took over the coffee shop, I had like a year and a half ago, they had sort of the I guess the opening and the closing chore list somewhere, but it was never printed out. It was never followed precisely. And I wish if there was one thing I had done, it would have been to have exactly what you said, instructions for everybody. Front of house, back of house, opening, closing what you're just occasional chores are when you're standing around and laminated those damn things and put them where people could reference them really easily.
Valerie Rubin: Absolutely. And that's one of the things too, that people, owners especially, a lot of the time owners, they're responsible and they're organized and they chef as well, you'll expect everybody to just understand what needs to be done at the level you do. But I think part of the big miscommunication in this business is when people come in the owner and a boss, the manager has to understand that they're a teacher. You're not a manager, you're an instructor. So not everybody's going to come in and understand what needs to be done and why. So it's your responsibility to teach them how to do that and having it written down and really spending the time to teach them how to do it and not getting frustrated when they don't know how to do it are big key components to being successful.
Kerry Diamond: I needed you in my life a lot earlier than today.
Valerie Rubin: I know. I coach Prostart, which is an organization that helps high school kids that want to take a professional track as opposed to an educational track. So I teach Prostart for cooking essentially. So high school juniors and seniors compete for scholarships to go to culinary education. So I work with them and they're anywhere between 15 and 18 and they're talented but they don't know anything. So I got the opportunity to work with these kids and really teach them how to elevate their dishes and elevate their cooking style and their skill. And on top of that, because I work with so many new business owners, these people hire kids. We hire, again, anywhere between 15 and 20 year olds. So coming in, the first thing they say is, "Who's, who's held a knife before? Who's worked a register? Who's cleaned a counter?" And nine times out of ten, they have never done that. So you kind of parse out to people that want to learn what they want to learn and kind of steer them.
Valerie Rubin: The kids that want to learn culinary, you put them in the kitchen and you become a teacher and you learn very quickly that you can't get frustrated because someone doesn't know something that's not their fault. So I've been fortunate in that I've gotten so much practice over the past ten years in doing that. And I've also gotten to see the reward when someone learns something new and really gets the joy, that little spark of joy. And it's really fun to watch. So especially when I do my training, I try to teach somebody new every single day because even that little spark of joy, it's just like, oh, that's so cool. How to cut an onion, here's why you don't cut it this way, here's why you cut it this way. And when you explain the why, even when you clean the counter or wipe down fingerprints from a door, when you explain the why, you see this little light go on and it's stupidly very rewarding.
Kerry Diamond: I love the way you put that. The explain the why because the way I described it, it's like when you're a little kid and you're fighting with your parents and you don't want to do something and your parent says, because I said so. That's probably what I was doing instead of explaining the why, it was doing a, because I said so and your way obviously is so much better.
Valerie Rubin: And it's hard to do that because you have to take the time. It takes three times as much time to explain the why as it does to just say, Well just do it because I said so. But then when you think about it later, if you take those five minutes and explain, here's why I want you to do this, here's why you should do it this way, then I have relieved myself of explaining or telling you down the road a hundred more times you have to do it this way because you understand why you do it that way. So I've spent five minutes but I've probably saved myself several hours in the future.
Kerry Diamond: And a lot of frustration. It's interesting. So many of the tips that you mentioned, the explain the why, be teacher, not a boss. Trust your gut. What they do versus who they are. So much of that goes back to culture essentially. And even just the explaining to the staff, the why then when you've got a new person, the people who are already there can also explain the why. It doesn't always fall on you, but you've established that there's this culture of teaching and explaining rather than just this is how we do it because just because.
Valerie Rubin: Exactly. And that's it. I mean that would be my third tip is really spend time training. Owners in particular, owners and managers when I say you need to train your staff, they say, "Well I don't have time to do that." But I think what doesn't get understood often is you don't have to take two hours and get everybody in a room to train them. You could have done ten minutes every single day with one or two of your employees and train them to do something properly. And if you are patient and you're explaining the why and you really celebrate the learning part of it and the winning part of it when they do it correctly, then you are creating that culture of good habits. So instead of saying we have to have a chefs meeting every whatever, when I was running the bar, we would have a shift meeting once a year if that, but they would pull everybody in at 8 o'clock in the morning. And you closed the bar at 2 o'clock in the morning and you have to be back at eight. Nobody wants to be there. Owners don't want to be there.
Valerie Rubin: Nobody really learns anything. They just kind of get through it. And if you have a shift meeting, do something joyful in that shift meeting. The best cultures are the cultures of joy. It doesn't feel like people are just getting by there. It feels like they're happy to be there. At Disney,I mean I go to Disney, I'm from California, I have a Disney family. We go to Disney, I'm actually going on Monday. When you go there, they have fostered a culture of joy. So you want to be there. And that's true for the employees as well as the customers and that's the kind of culture you want to foster. Whether that's a culture of joy because you're at Disneyland or culture joy because you are at a very professional bar after work were they serve a great martini. Not the different type of joy, but it is still a culture of joy.
Kerry Diamond: Well Val, that is a perfect place to end. You are a treasure and I really hope we have you back on the show. Honestly, if I had known you ten years ago, I might have a very different life today. Your advice is so great and whether you're somebody in the Bombesquad who has a restaurant or a bakery, or a cafe, or a coffee shop or whatever, or you're thinking of having one, I think all your advice is applicable to multiple industries. I don't think it matters if you're in food or F and B or not. So thank you so much. I would love to have you back on. I mean we probably could have talked for two hours about all these subjects.
Valerie Rubin: Well, thank you so much for having me. I sincerely mean this when I say it. I will come back anytime. Thank you so much.
Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you so much to Valerie Ruben for sharing her amazing advice with all of us. If you're wondering how you can work with US Foods, you can DM them on Instagram. Their handle is US underscore Foods. Also, thank you to today's sponsors, Traeger Wood Fired Grills and Le Cordon Bleu culinary schools. Don't forget, we'd love if you could support the Hunger Doesn't Take A Break initiative from the Food Bank For New York City. Visit foodbanknyc.org for more. Radio Cherry Bombe is a production of Cherry Bombe Media. Our show is edited, engineered, and produced by Jess sidemen. Our special projects director is Lauren Page Goldstein. Our publisher is Kate Miller Spencer and our intern is Julia Fabricant. Our theme song is all fired up by the band Cha La La. Thanks for listening everybody. You're the bombe. I'll have what she's having.
Camille Moore: Hey guys, my name is Camille Moore, otherwise known as Cammy Cooks on Instagram. I'm a chef, event stylist, YouTuber and guest expert on CTV's The Social here in Canada. Who do I think is the bombe? Without a doubt, that would have to be the one and only Julia Child. Watching her on TV as a kid really showed me what I wanted to do when I grew up and when it came time to choose culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu in Paris was the only way to go because obviously that's where she went. Without a doubt, Juliet is the bombe in my books.