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JBF Women in Culinary Leadership Program Experience

21c and Proof on Main are excited to participate in The James Beard Foundation Women in Culinary Leadership (WCL) program for the third year. WCL is an accelerated, learning-by-doing 9-month mentorship program that gives women a chance to work alongside industry leaders and build in-depth skills in the kitchen or in restaurant management.  This program aims to correct the industry’s gender imbalance by training and supporting women throughout their careers. By providing mentees in the WCL program hands-on experience and the opportunity to witness the many ingredients that make a restaurant successful, JBF hopes to improve the experiences of women in the culinary industry and encourage more women to pursue leadership roles.

Last year, Chef Mike Wajda and 21c Chief Hospitality Officer Sarah Robbins welcomed Hailey Vitner into Proof on Main’s kitchen as their 2017 JBF WCL mentee. We sat down with Hailey to chat about her experience.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to this industry.

A: I’m from Omaha, NE where I spent a few years working in both back of house and front of house at several restaurants. It wasn’t until I started working at a wine bar and bistro that I truly considered becoming a chef. I started off there as a prep cook and then was promoted to sous chef. It opened my eyes to the ins and outs of running a kitchen, and I knew then that I wanted to make this a career.

Q: Why did you apply for the WCL program?

A: After leaving the bistro, I started working at another restaurant where I learned a lot, but I knew I still needed to push myself. I decided to apply to the WCL program just 3 days before the deadline. I’ve always wanted to be a leader and felt like the hands-on experience and mentorship offered in this program were exactly what I needed to keep developing my leadership skills.

Q: Looking back on your experience, what are you most proud of?

A: I am really proud of the technical skills I’ve gained from working alongside Chef Mike and his team. Working as part of a large kitchen staff also gave me the opportunity to sharpen my communication skills. I learned to adjust my style to each teammate’s needs, which will be so useful as I continue on in my career.

Q: What did you like most about working at Proof on Main?

A: I’ll never forget the team’s approach to trying new things. They taught me that it’s okay to fail as long as you’re bettering yourself. I also love that there’s a connection from the ground to the table at Proof. You can see the whole story unfold on your plate.

Q: What are some of your highlights from the program?

A: I worked my way through all the stations in the kitchen which gave me a great feel for how the kitchen functions and what skills are needed for each. I was also excited to have a dish on the menu – a carrot soup.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: This experience has fueled my love of learning. I have this urge to learn and to travel. You have to keep growing and there’s so much to learn in this industry. You just can’t be stagnant.

Chef Mike Wajda and Sarah Robbins describe their time with Hailey as an equally rewarding experience. “Early in my career, I was blessed with the guidance of a female mentor,” said Sarah Robbins, Chief Hospitality Officer of 21c Museum Hotels. “I’ve spent the balance of my career helping other young professionals in return – it’s work I believe in and work that I love. In typically male-dominated kitchens, it’s especially important to nurture a culture that supports the growth of both men and women. Witnessing Hailey get better every day by reflecting on what she learned and what she would do differently was the most meaningful part of this experience for me. I couldn’t be happier to welcome another JBF Women in Culinary Leadership mentee into our flock this year.”

Chef Mike Wajda echoed Sarah, “It is our job to continuously give back to the craft. Opportunities like JBF’s Women in Culinary Leadership Program are a great way to invest in the future. Watching Hailey grow as a leader during her time with us made this experience particularly rewarding.”

Are you a woman with a hospitality or culinary background and at least 2 years of relevant experience? Applications are now open through April 28th for the 2018 Women in Culinary Leadership class. Click here to apply today.

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