Knife skills, mastering mise en place, and whisking the perfect Bearnaise sauce can take a chef pretty far in most kitchens, but it’s a chef’s leadership qualities that really open doors to success.


The Culinary School of Fort Worth recognizes it takes more than cooking to run a kitchen. Students develop leadership and management skills to run multiple forms of food operations during their curriculum. Ethan Starr, the Culinary School of Fort Worth program director, says leadership qualities are instilled in students in both theoretical and practical ways.


“The seven qualities of a professional chef – knowledge, skill, taste, judgement, dedication, professional ethics, and pride – are listed in the first chapter of our text,” Starr says. “These are the values we want our students to exhibit in the kitchen.”


Even more, every day in the school’s kitchen lab, a student sous chef is elected to serve as the leader, helping the instructor communicate tasks, Starr adds.


“This helps our students understand how to delegate and communicate with co-workers, as well as knowing kitchen sanitation standards,” he says. “This also compounds the learning they have gained throughout the program by giving them a practical example of leading in the kitchen.” 


A lack of leadership can lead to disorganization, and sometimes, disrespect – among employees, management, and even to the customer.


Here, three tenured chefs and restaurateurs with decades of combined experience share their thoughts on what makes an effective leader in the kitchen, and how important leadership is in real-world scenarios. Common themes – like passion and patience – are evident, but some of their answers might be surprising.


Adam Jones

Owner – Grace, Little Red Wasp, 61 Osteria


He’s elevated the restaurant scene in Fort Worth with his high-end concepts, and is very particular about quality, consistency, and service. How does Adam Jones, a Nebraska native with years of restaurant experience, recruit good leaders? He looks for folks with tenacity and people skills, he says.


“The restaurant business is hard work with long hours and back breaking routine,” he says. “However, people skills play even a bigger role.”


Jones says the ability to get along not only with fellow employees but management, vendors, equipment repair folks, and especially guests, all play an important role in being a great leader.


“Also, all good chefs that I know work alongside employees to set the example and practice consistency,” he emphasizes.


Josh Healy

Director of Culinary Operations – Cane Rosso, Zoli’s


Josh Healy oversees all kitchens for locations of the popular Neapolitan pizza eatery, Cane Rosso, and its sister restaurant, Zoli’s Pizza, which serves New York-style pies. Healy develops all menus and trains all chefs and says patience is one of several virtues of an effective leader.


“I’ve found that when you’re patient and give everyone opportunities for growth, you find their path. They will excel somewhere, maybe just not where you first thought they would,” he says.


Healy also strongly believes that “please and thank you make the world go round,” he says.


“It seems so simple, but in an industry that is historically very aggressive and not forgiving to the people who run it, the basic and respectful mindset of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ is very powerful.”


Healy admits as a young chef he would often lose his cool, but as he now talks to his teams calmly and respectfully, he in return receives more respect from his employees.


Awareness and organization are also important for leadership, says Healy.


“I’ve always told my employees I know they’re ready for the next step when I can randomly ask them about their station and they can answer everything,” he says. “This means you’ve mastered your area and you have the ability to learn more. It comes from being aware of your surroundings and being organized in your thoughts and actions.”


Finally, a deep love for hospitality – as a whole – is key in culinary leadership, Healy adds.


“I think it’s important to distinguish the difference between being a great chef and being a great leader in the kitchen,” he says. “A chef historically cares solely about the food. The rest of it be damned. We are no longer in that day and age, which means we need to shift how we see role responsibilities. I’ve worked for chefs that would change the entire menu on a Friday night. The food was great and guests loved it, but that kitchen turned over a ton of employees because it was so intensely draining.”


Chad Burnett

Culinary Director – Funky Lime Hospitality


Chad Burnett’s lengthy, wide-ranging resume includes stints at Scottsdale’s Biltmore resort, Nana Grill at the Hilton Anatole, and Soho in Addison. He’s spent time as a culinary school instructor at two colleges and has experience as a pastry chef.


Today he oversees the culinary program for Funky Lime Hospitality, the group that owns Whiskey Garden, Your Mom’s House, and Koe Wetzel’s Riot Room, newly opened in the West 7th nightlife district.


“What makes a great leader in the kitchen is a combination of lots of attributes,” says Burnett. “You must be passionate about food, be open to working long hours and most days of the week, be willing to sacrifice time away from others and yourself to be with your work family, but at the same time take care of yourself.


You must always be thinking about food, and how you can make it better, more cost effective, and more efficient. You must be able to set standards, create systems, and execute them. You must be able to endure conflict, have the ability to reprimand your employees, and hold them accountable.


You must be able to accept change, and implement it, and you must seek professional development, certifications, and be willing to compete. You must belong to organizations driven around food, and be involved in their missions, and you must have a mentor, and a mentee.


You must act and respond as if the kitchen, and the rest of the buildings around it are yours, even if they aren’t.


You must take care of your employees, vendors, customers, co-leads, bosses, and competitors. You must be organized, precise, and driven to make everything and everyone around you that way also.”


Burnett adds a leadership attribute that’s not spoken of frequently, but vitality important.


“Finally, you must be sober,” he says. “No partying at work or late into the night before work.  You’ll lose all respect from your staff.”


Written by Celestina Blok

How to Be an Effective Leader in the Kitchen



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