Open a restaurant today and before too long, there will be a second restaurant and maybe a third. At that point, the restaurateur will name someone to oversee the kitchens to manage the food and growing number of employees.
Jason Evenchik, whose Vintage Syndicate has seven bars and restaurants — Vintage (2006), Time (2008), Bar (2009), Heritage (2015), Tiki (2016), and two Garage locations (2013 for East Passyunk and 2016 for Fishtown) — lost his long-standing chef at Vintage last year.
This finally opened the eyes of Evenchik, a onetime Le Bec-Fin front waiter who realized that while his front-of-the-house team was efficient, he had no corporate executive chef. At Time, on Sansom Street near 13th, he did have Mackenzie Hilton, who had worked in Philadelphia kitchens for nearly a decade (Figs, Fork, Mercato, Tavern on Camac) minus a few years in California. She also won on the TV show Chopped in 2010.
Hilton, 38, grew up in both Titusville, Fla., and Sonoma, Calif., starting in the business in 2001 waiting tables at the Davidson Depot while a student at Davidson College in North Carolina. One day, she asked the kitchen manager to let her cook on the line and she never looked back.
"Of course, I'm impressed with her cooking," Evenchik said. "But a lot of being a chef is spreadsheets and numbers and computer work." Hilton had that down, too, from management experience in California.
Hilton is one of the few women overseeing the culinary program for local restaurant groups. Married nearly two years ago to web designer Seth Massman, she is due with a baby girl in late September.
Aside from the personal stuff that I have to deal with in the morning for just being pregnant, I get here usually around 11 or noon. I'll usually check into all the restaurants. I have some meetings during the middle of the day with the rest of upper management. In the evenings, I am popping around from place to place. I'm wherever I'm needed. For example, last weekend I was at Vintage [the French-theme wine bar on 13th Street near Sansom] the entire weekend because the chef de cuisine was on vacation. I was literally working the line for five days in a row and on my feet until 12, 1 at night. My life is still so crazy all the time. I don't have regular days off necessarily. I don't have a regular time frame, necessarily. Sometimes, I'm in at 10 and out at 8. Sometimes, I'm in at noon and out at 1 in the morning.
I'm going to be taking at least a month solid off. Everyone's very realistic about it. Everyone here who has kids, they're like, "You need to take three months or take more time." I don't know that I'm ever going to be able to let go that hard, so my aim is to take at least four solid weeks off. That's what I'm working really hard on right now — to make sure that every single restaurant is running like a fine-tuned machine with the right people in charge of it, making sure that the day-to-day is there and the structure is there to support everything, and that we can operate for a nice, long month straight without my input.
After that, I would like to kind of slowly work my way back in, but not in a full-time capacity for that second month, just literally having meetings, making sure that everyone has what they need. Management is probably one of my talents. It's like having all those kids under you that you're kind of nurturing the entire time. That's what I do well: provide those systems and help people figure out where they need to go to get done what they need to get done.
I'll probably be back in in a consulting manner in that second month. Then, by December, I'd like to be back in pretty much full time. Maybe not as intense, in terms of the workweek that I'm doing currently, but definitely in here, fully available to be support for all of my teams.
Bon Appetit Management Group, which does corporate dining. I was the executive chef for DreamWorks in Redwood City. They no longer have that campus anymore, but it was a really interesting thing to do. It taught me about managing a larger crew, managing in more of a corporate environment, working for a larger company. They still very much value from-scratch, organic, locally sourced products, which is lovely for a bigger company like that. It was weekdays, and then on the weekends I worked at a winery in Sonoma, at Chateau St. Jean. I worked in the tasting room. I got to learn a lot more about wine that way than I already knew, but it was a lot of work for living in a very expensive place and without very much support, and I really missed restaurants. It's really hard to break into San Francisco's scene, coming from a completely different city, which is why ultimately I moved back. I would have had to take a big, huge step down and work as a line cook, probably, to work myself back up in San Francisco, and I just wasn't willing to do that.
I think I grew a lot there because I had so many people working for me. I had to be more careful than I had ever been because of, working in a corporate environment, you're dealing with an entire HR department. Ten years ago, the things that people got away with saying or doing to others in the kitchen that were below them just blows my mind: Throwing things at people, yelling at them, demeaning them, calling them names. You don't see that much anymore, but it happens. I saw a little bit here and there when I was coming up and had some really difficult learning experiences. I think I could have ended up being a very different manager and being a little bit more harsh to deal with.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not a walk in the park. I'm very blunt and I'm very clear and I try to tell people what I expect from them so that there's no surprises. I also easily will give praise where praise is due, but I think of myself as being very fair and very sincere. I won't demean people and I won't make them feel bad about themselves in the process.
One of the things that drew me to this field was the challenge of kind of being a woman in this line of work. I kind of liked that extra challenge that it proposed, and the fact that people didn't expect as much from me as I was able to put forward. It was really gratifying to prove people wrong or actually just come through as far as I could. Definitely, the industry has changed dramatically, but it is still not all the way there.
We have a great female presence, in Philadelphia especially, in terms of restaurateurs, in terms of chefs, butchers. When I first came to Time, we did a series called Flights and Bites Ladies' Night, and I invited various women in the industry. We would do stuff where I would create small dishes that we'd pair with cool beers and we would have the women come in and just kind of celebrate women in the industry. Doing stuff like that is very rare, and I think it's still needed to kind of point out, celebrate all the women that are up-and-coming in this industry and that are pushing forward and making their marks in still a slightly male-dominated industry.