Part III – Interview with Chef Caroline Ishii

In this last installment, Caroline talks about her mentors, what advice she’d give you if you are considering a career change to enter restaurant work and what’s next for her.

Who has mentored and supported you inside and outside the business?

I had some great mentors when I did my internships after my chef school.  I sought out my mentors and learning opportunities in Manhattan, San Francisco, Tokyo and Ottawa. I believe your education is a base, a launching pad, and it’s what you do with it afterwards, your attitude and enthusiasm, that will determine how far you will go.

I love learning. Therefore, I have also done a lot of self study by lots of observing, reading and testing. I try to learn from everywhere and everyone, whether through books, observing nature and the interesting colours and textures that are part of it, and most importantly observing in my very own kitchen.

I work and have worked with some extremely talented and dedicated cooks. I learn from them every day. Not only the sharing of knowledge and techniques they have picked up along the way, but more importantly their positivity and enthusiasm for cooking and doing a good job despite the challenges they face on a daily basis. Working despite extreme heat and physical injuries to name but a few. Their spirit inspires me to be a good leader to them, a good person, to stay positive and be there for them, even on the days when I am physically and emotionally drained. It’s not easy some days and I fail miserably, however they keep me in check.

Equally important is the support I have received from my friends and colleagues outside the restaurant. They support me in so many matters related to the restaurant such as human resources, technical issues, administration and not directly related but important such as how to create more work-life balance and nurture my passion.

Most important, I have learned that I need to listen to my intuition. We have most of the answers we need if we listen carefully.

If someone is considering a career change to working in or running a restaurant, what are the steps that I should consider taking to get there successfully – schooling, stages etc.?

First is to figure out if the lifestyle fits in with who you’d like to be.  How are you with working all the time, and especially long nights?  Are you ok with being off when most people are not and giving up your nights. In my case, after over three years, I am finally able to take one night off a week!

I would also try to get as much training as possible before, for example becoming a manager of a restaurant and learning from that. Also, talk to many restauranteurs that you can about their experience though some will be more open to talking than others.

I would also try to gather up all my financial resources now and in the future, because once you are an entrepreneur, and good forbid a restaurateur, it will be extremely difficult to get financial resources and support.  For example, after three years, we are still working on obtaining a credit card for the business.

What’s next for you?

That’s a good question! I am looking at how I can best build on the ZenKitchen brand, and exploring how to take the philosophy and food beyond the Ottawa marketplace through perhaps a product line, classes and consulting.


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