Advice from a James Beard Award-Winning Chef

Boston restaurateur Barbara Lynch has come a long way from the rough South Boston projects where she grew up.

“Trust your instincts” is one of James Beard Award-winning chef Barbara Lynch’s mantras.

A high school dropout, this largely self-taught chef fell in love with fine dining as a teenager, when she bussed tables at Boston’s exclusive St. Botolph Club. Nearly 3 decades later, she oversees a restaurant empire that includes some of Boston’s most acclaimed restaurants, ranging in style from elegant No. 9 Park to low-key Sportello.

For the no-nonsense Lynch, success means following gut instincts. From a recent talk at JWU’s Providence Campus, her practical advice to culinary students about defining your own career path:

What It Takes to Be a Chef
Being a chef is one of those jobs where you have to know everything — not just about cooking, but about how long it takes to clean the grease trap, or to wash dishes. You have to live and breathe it.

Set Your Own Goals
Think about where you want to be in 10 years and go for it. If you have the passion, money will follow.

JWU DVC Barbara Lynch’s signature banana split with chocolate ice creamFind Mentors
When you’re looking for a job, find restaurants that will set you up for success. Treat people the way you want to be treated, and you’ll get that respect right back. Roll up your sleeves. Take criticism and grow from it.

Be Savvy about Business
I don’t have a business background, but I knew I had to be smart about labor, food and material costs. Be on top of every detail. Everything matters — pennies will kill you. And remember: only one protein on the plate at a time!

So You Think You Want to Own a Restaurant?
Be smart and start slow. Be conservative about costs. As you grow, you can start to relax and focus on what’s important.