5 Career Tips from a Seasoned Chef

It’s the question that every aspiring chef craves an answer: How do you find success in the restaurant industry?

Of course, every top culinary professional has their own secret recipe. Here are five key tips from Marketa (Lucas) Appiah '16, a Johnson & Wales University Charlotte alum who, at 27 years old, is the sous chef for the Grand Bohemian Hotel Charlotte.

Marketa (Lucas) Appiah '16

5 Career Tips from a Seasoned Chef

1. You have to put in your time (and even go outside your comfort zone) to see results.

Every step of Appiah's college and post-college career led to her work today. She started as a dishwasher, then line cook, then lead line cook and now sous chef. After she graduated from JWU, she spent seven-and-a-half months working for Paul Fehribach at Big Jones in Chicago, a Southern kitchen and bar. “I applied for the Women in Culinary Leadership Program through the James Beard Foundation that I stumbled upon online. I got to interview with five James Beard-recognized chefs from Chicago, New York, and Miami. I eventually choose to work for Chef Paul, a paid seven-month mentorship program.”

2. Put what you learned in culinary school to work.

Appiah credits the big career strides she’s made so far to her former JWU courses. She oversees a total of seven line cooks and three dishwashers. And as a manager, she thinks back to one class in particular, FSM4061 Advanced Food Service Operations Management, where students have to develop their own business plan, the menu, staff scheduling and more. Her instructor, Don Schoffstall, Ph.D., says, “It is a final senior-level class, where students combine and utilize all they have learned in an all management-focused experience with real-world applications and outcomes.”

Advanced Food Service Operations Management courses include providing a full dining experience to willing participants

Schoffstall says he remembers her as “a quality student with tremendous energy and pleasant demeanor stand out. Now, to reconnect of sorts and see how her initial passion from class matured into a tremendous career with still so more room to grow is always amazing to see from a former student.”

“I think about that class particularly on our busiest days,” Marketa says. “I prep earlier, call in staff earlier and make sure they get prepared earlier.” Delegating and working with the staff through their issues and teaching them along the way instead of giving them orders all day is something I think builds moral and keeps staff turn-over rate low.

3. Look for inspiration in unexpected places.

Appiah says that she gets inspired by the décor around her. And if you’ve ever been to the Grand Bohemian Hotel Charlotte, you’ll know that she has plenty to work with: The colors and unique shapes make it so special. She points to one amazing wall mural in particular that inspires new menu after new menu. “It’s the first thing you see when you walk in. The piece excites me. I am thinking of fresh fish and leafy greens and incorporating colorful fruits and vegetables,” she said. That kind of ingenuity helped boost Buho Rooftop Bar food sales by 35% in less than two months.

Appiah demonstrating a moment in the life of a sous chef

4. Listen to your audience and study your competitors.

Appiah says she tries to anticipate her customer’s needs by using seasonal ingredients and studying other popular restaurant menus to learn more about recent trends.

5. Set long-term goals, both professional and personal.

Now that Appiah has achieved so much success as a chef, what’s next? Becoming a mom, for starters! Appiah and her husband, who were married during the pandemic, are expecting a baby around Thanksgiving 2021. “I would like to take a seat from my sous chef duties after my maternity leave, continue my catering business and be a full-time mommy! My long-term goal is to teach. I would love to be a culinary professor.” 

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