Samin Nosrat has always been "good with people"--when she's not managing them. The chef and star of Netflix's smash hit Salt Fat Acid Heat, adapted from her best-selling book, is as charismatic in person as she is on screen, with an infectious laugh. She's starting a new company, to produce future TV projects; this time, she's determined to be a better leader. --As told to Maria Aspan
In 2004, I started working at this restaurant in Berkeley, California--Eccolo, which was founded and run by my mentor, Chris Lee. I came to run the kitchen, and that was my first managerial role. It wasn't my restaurant--I didn't have any ownership--but because I was working for my mentor and also because of my personality, I took on the stress like it was.
There was constant tension with the investors. Our values were fundamentally misaligned. That's fine when things are successful, but when there are challenges, it really gets difficult. They didn't care that we wanted to buy the best organic eggs, or attempt to pay a living wage. They were like, "That's not how restaurants run." We had come in so idealistic--but when you don't have a reputation yet and you're not making any money, you can't really afford to do that.
I was 25. A good cook. But I hadn't ever been given any training in how to lead people. I ended up resorting a lot to passive aggression. Or actual aggression. I never threw anything. I wasn't much of a yeller. But I would find other ways to be mean, because I didn't know what else to do. I was just some dorky brown girl. I didn't have the tools to get guys who were older than I was, many of whom were white, to listen.
Like, "Oh, you're not going to listen if I'm being nice and explaining this patiently? Maybe the only way you'll listen is if I'm mean." I'm not proud of that. It became this cancer that basically ate me and my co-workers.
I was ready to get out of the restaurant long before we closed in 2009. I had a lot of temper tantrums and cried a lot and quit a million times. But Chris was like a second dad to me, so I always kept coming back out of a sense of loyalty.
When it was done, I was stoked. Like, "Yes! No more! I want to be a writer! I never want to have employees again." It was too much responsibility. It was too terrifying. Too hard.
And here I am, 10 years later. Starting my own company--terrifyingly. But this time, I have a lot more power. I can be much more careful in whom I choose to work with, so I can be sure they already have some of the same values.
I just made my first hires. Before I hired a strategic adviser, we spent like two months talking about our values, whom we admire (and don't), and what it is that we want to build. Now, because this woman is so smart and amazing and I know that we're aligned, I don't have to manage her every choice.
Still, there was this moment early on. She presented her plan to make some money, which I'd asked her to do. That night, I went home and I was like, "I think I hate her."
This was really bad! But I sat with why I felt bad, and realized it had nothing to do with her. It was that I was so stressed out, because I'm on the road 24/7, doing all these speaking events. (That's what's paying for all of this.) She was suggesting that I add more things to do--and that would kill me. So it wasn't anything about her at all. It was just my feelings, which I had to figure out how to articulate.
Luckily, I'm now mature enough--and I go to enough therapy--that I usually don't take out my feelings immediately. But I still have them. We all move forward. We all keep learning. It doesn't mean that anyone's perfect. It doesn't mean I never lose my temper. But it means having the self-awareness to say to somebody, "I'm sorry I did this."
I don't know if I'll spectacularly fail. But I do know this: How I treat people, and how we treat one another, and the feeling around what we're doing--that's the most important thing.