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THE BEST OF WHAT I'VE LEARNED

By JD Fratzke, Corporate Chef



I had been working in restaurant kitchens for about seven years when I was offered my first chance to join a leadership team as a salaried manager. My first sous chef job.


Terrified of failure and determined to avoid disaster, I took it upon myself to contribute to our team in a way that I felt would build its foundation. We had a kitchen full of expert experience, chefs who had cooked and eaten all over the world, chefs who had opened dozens of restaurants and traveled to every continent – including Antarctica.


I had been to Iowa and Wisconsin – and Disneyworld when I was fifteen.


I didn’t take it lightly that given my lack of globetrotting, gastronomic savvy, I was lucky to be part of that team - to be trusted with bringing a gigantic new restaurant to Minneapolis and to be instrumental in training the team that would determine the course of its success.


Up to that point, I had worked for some really great people - and several no-so-great people. I had worked for chefs who screamed and threw things and seemed to demand not just excellence, but clairvoyance. I had worked for burned-out figureheads. I had worked for chefs who hid behind clipboards and chefs who called me at home to make sure I was awake and okay and on my way to work.


Unsure of what to expect in my new leadership role, I lifted the lid on the seven-year stew of experience I had garnered and stared deeply at the ingredients. I saw a lot of what I liked and a lot of what I didn’t. I made the time to ruminate on how to take the best of what I had been taught by the chefs who had led me to the realization of a few universal truths:


- We often learn some of our best lessons in life from people we like the least. Painting anyone with a broad brush of judgment can eliminate opportunity.

- Kindness should never be mistaken for weakness. Cruelty only leads to limitations.

- Everyone deserves the dignity of patient instruction. No one arrives at greatness on their own.


As I resolved to make those the basis of my approach to responsibility in my new environment, I began to understand that no one I had worked for in the past had universally embodied all of those points. Part of me had started putting on a mask in the kitchen every day that same way that I put on my newly monogrammed chef coat. Some days I felt most comfortable behaving like Chef Wade, some days like Chef Vincent, Chef Rick, or Chef Carrie. Calling on their past instruction or examples of their behavior helped me make decisions as I foundered my way through the tall grass of leadership.


One day, however, I seemed to recognize that approach was wearing thin. For all the examples of kitchen professionalism (or lack thereof) I had experienced, only portions of my past were relevant to what I was now required to execute on a nightly basis. Something seemed to be telling me, “Stop trying to be This Chef or That Chef. Instead, be The Chef you wish you would have had.”


Through disasters and disappointments and poor planning, through unforeseen success, betrayals, celebrations, losses, riots, pandemics, and quiet accomplishments, as I have chosen to lead kitchens and share my experience, that principle has been the one I have relied upon over and over again.


When Daly and DeRoma invited me to join their team as Corporate Chef in charge of their test kitchen, the opportunity to be the Chef I wish I would have had took on a new weight – one which I am excited and eager to offer our North Country culinary community.


My new position at Daly and DeRoma has created the ability for me to be a resource to kitchens and dining rooms of all kinds, to offer advice and direction to a culture I deeply love and am eager to re-pay all the good things it has ever given to me.


As Daly and DeRoma grows our endeavor through the near future, it is our intent to provide opportunities, resources, support, and materials to all foodservice professionals in our community who have chosen to pursue new purchases of superlative products.


Want to discover the ins and outs of Vulcan’s latest touch-screen combi oven? Curious as to whether or not Vitamix blenders are the best option for your bar program? Looking to replace the ware-washing system you inherited from your operation’s previous owner? Eager to see your new menu showcased on the kind of durable and eye-catching plates, bowls, and flatware that your guests will find as impressive as your food? Daly and DeRoma are here to help you navigate all of that.


Consistent accomplishment requires an ability to rely on one’s resources. I am beyond honored to have been asked to bring the best of what I’ve learned to a group of seasoned foodservice professionals who have made it their mission to be that resource for you, for your operation and for your team members.


I can hardly think of better work worth doing.


JD Fratzke

Plymouth, MN

February 2024

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