The British chef who helped spark the American gastropub boom believes in teaching by example--whether she's cooking or paying employees a living wage. Read excerpts below of her recent conversation with Scott Gerber, or click on the video at the bottom to watch the entire interview:
You’re a famously perfectionist chef. Does striving for perfection rather than “good enough” ever slow down your business or hurt sales?
If somebody’s not putting up a perfectly beautiful salad in one of my restaurants, it goes straight in the bin. You can’t do any job half-baked. There’s a lot of mediocrity out there, and that can be very detrimental to a business. Sometimes businesses go under because they’re not consistent.
So how do you make your workers into perfectionists?
You just have to keep teaching--that’s part of being perfect. You can’t just say, “Well, I’ve told that person that 10 times. I’m not going to tell him again.” You have to keep pushing and keep plugging.
Now that you and your business partner, Ken Friedman, run several restaurants, how do you oversee all of them?
We usually jump around from restaurant to restaurant, meeting with our staff every day and making sure they’re happy. Lots of taxis, lots of walking. And I do numerous tastings in a day, which can be a little tough on your digestive system.
Restaurants are on the frontlines of the battles over minimum wage and health care changes. Owners’ margins are so thin, but workers’ pay is so low. Where do you stand?
It’s a little scary, isn’t it? As a business owner, you want to make money, but on the other side of the coin, you want to look after your staff. At the end of the day, I’d rather have my staff make a good, living wage while I make a little bit less--and hope customers acknowledge that we might have to raise prices to accommodate that. Some of them probably mind. But if you educate people about it, and if other restaurants do that across the board, I think it probably would feel a lot better to pay that extra amount.