Chef Jose Santos: The Importance of Company Culture and Mentorship

June 12, 2019
Jose Santos moved from Brazil to the U.S. 19 years ago, and found his passion very unexpectedly. He began looking for a job, any job, as an immigrant to this country. Of course, as many of us the industry, he went to a restaurant for apply for his first job.
A small Cuban Restaurant hired Jose as a prep and fryer cook.
Not only did he have no idea how to cook, but he could not speak English or Spanish, which was a challenge, to say the very least.
In time, he began to learn English and feel more comfortable in the kitchen.
When Jose progressed from fryer to sauteƩ cook, he began to enjoy what he was doing, and no longer thought of it as "just a job". He became more focused on developing his cooking skills, and eventually became the lead line cook.
After years working there, gaining more experience, the Chef/Owner took him under his wing and became Jose's mentor.
He eventually began working in new restaurants, under different chefs, gaining more and more experience within the culinary world.
Jose then saw that he could turn this into his career.
It is unbelievable to him that he went from an inexperienced prep cook who did not even speak English or Spanish, to an Executive Chef.
I'm always coaching and communicating my vision and goals for the future to my cooks.
I think it is very important to make sure everyone is involved. I want to inspire my team members.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

Jose : I consider myself a visionary leader. I'm always coaching and communicating my vision and goals for the future to my cooks.
I think it is very important to make sure everyone is involved. I want to inspire my team members.
Sometimes I tell them how I started in this industry, and that if I could succeed, so can they.
Years ago, I read a quote that has stuck with me ever since. "When the vision is clear, the results will appear. Keep your mindset positive as you work your plan, flourish, and always remember why you started". (Germany Kent) That pretty much sums up my style.

Q: How you would describe your company culture?

Jose : The business is family-oriented, from the concept down to the staff and operations. The team superpower is definitely the long term employees that enhance the quality of work and mindset needed for success.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you have met in your career?

Jose :
One of the biggest challenges I have faced, more than once, is building a team in the kitchen. When you have the responsibility of leading the kitchen, building a solid back of the house team is essential for success. I have had definite challenges with seasoned employees that did not respond well to change of any kind. I have found that taking the time to show them the goals and the "big picture", made it easier for them to make the adjustments they needed in order to contribute to the success of the business.
I guess I am more old school. I still believe in going to the job location, introducing yourself and trying to meet with the chef or manager, despite that it is becoming more difficult to do nowadays.
Q: What are some challenges or trends you see in hiring today?

Jose : I believe one of the challenges today has to do with recruiters. The whole process of contacting quality candidates and setting up an interview sometimes takes too long, and we end up loosing them. I guess I am more old school. I still believe in going to the job location, introducing yourself and trying to meet with the chef or manager, despite that it is becoming more difficult to do nowadays.

Q: Have you ever had an hourly job? If yes, please share with us your experience?

Jose : Of course, yes, I had many hourly jobs in the beginning of my career. When I started working in the restaurant business, I was a prep cook, then a busboy, and food runner.

Q: Who inspires you and why?

Jose : Chef Rafael, my "Cuban father" from Hard Grove Cafe in Jersey City, NJ. He took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity to work in his kitchen as my first job in the United States. He was patient, talented, and taught me what a great leader should be. It is because of him that I found my passion for cooking and became who I am today.
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