We here at The 86’D Life were able to catch up with up and coming chef, Shalimar Liuzza. Ms. Liuzza is currently working at the prestigious Fairmount Country Club in Chatham, New Jersey. She was kind enough to share with us her experiences moving up the ranks in the industry along with her feelings on women working in a predominantly male professional.
The 86’d Life: “How did you get involved in the service industry? Where did you originally get your start?”
Shalimar Liuzza: I first started when I was 15. I had the choice to go to summer camp or start working. I chose to work because camp wasn’t really happening for me. I was a cashier at Burger King. I was really fast at getting orders out and correctly so they trusted me to be by myself. As I continued to work my way up the service industry ladder – a year later I found myself at Panera Bread. I wanted to learn everything there was about the store. I started out as a cashier, and then extended my help in the back of the house prepping and washing dishes. I then took a leadership role in the bakery portion, the hot line and the dining room of the store. Eventually, they made me an associate trainer because I knew all the areas of the store. After Panera Bread, I began working at Mama’s Italian Restaurant to gain more experience in the back of the house. There I learned how to prep for the day ahead along with preparing food during a rush. I also learned the basics of expediting which assisted me in the future. From there I went to Chili’s Bar and Grill. My time there consisted of more back of the house and kitchen experience; including dish washing, food prep and providing quality dishes during service. At my current job, I’ve assisted in onsite functions and catering. I’ve prepared for 400 person events and performed at live stations. I’ve also become knowledgeable about meat trimming, portioning and preparation for the lunch and dinner services.
86’d Life: “Why did you want to work in the service industry?”
SL: “I wanted to work in the service industry because I felt like it was the easiest way of having a career. It was always easy for me to cook food and give it to people with a happy face. I really enjoy making people happy and seeing people happy so it just looked like the perfect route for me. Not to mention, I hated the idea of working in a cubicle my whole life, and just the idea of being part of the “morning commute” makes me cringe.”
86’d Life: “What is your favorite part of the job? Do you have a favorite part about working in your current restaurant?”
SL: “My favorite part about my job, anywhere, would be making the guest happy. I love to provide happiness and comfort to others. Even if that means I’m solely providing them with a seat and a menu because they came to you and your restaurant because it makes them happy. They could have gone anywhere but chose to come to your establishment. I also love the look on guest’s faces when you serve them exactly what they wanted, or more than what they wanted. The best part about my current job is when is see their plates come back clean. I don’t really know what they say since I’m in the back, but I know they enjoyed the dishes I’ve prepared because their plates came back clean.
86’d Life: “And the worst part of the job?”
SL: “The worst part is finding coworkers who do not have the same intentions as you do. A lot of people in the industry are just doing it for the money, which is fine, but many of them don’t really care about how they send out food, what it looks like, or if the guest enjoyed it or not. A lot of them can be very negative and it’s hard to deal with that when you have the best intentions for the establishment.”
86’d Life: “Why have you stayed in the industry?”
SL: “I have stayed because I’m too far in. I already have a lot of experience and I’m on the road to success.”
“Don’t give up. The more a person goes through in the kitchen (or service industry) the more experience they gain.”
86’d Life: “Have you ever thought about leaving the profession? Have you ever left a shift or even kitchen – out of the blue?”
SL: “I never thought about leaving the profession, but I thought about leaving an establishment twice. The first time I actually did because the stress of performing to perfection was too much for me, and eventually ran me out. The second time, I felt I was treated unfairly compared to the other workers. I didn’t leave right away but I found a job and once my two weeks was submitted, I left.”
86’d Life: “What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome while working in the service industry?
SL: “The biggest obstacle was not being able to see my family and friends as much because of the work schedule and missing all the big events around the area because of work. Also, having to learn the ways of each new establishment I have worked in. Mainly because every restaurant/kitchen works so differently compared to the others.”
86’d Life: “If you could work in a different profession, what would it be?
SL: “I’d work in a zoo with different animals. I love animals.”
86’d Life: “What is your favorite dish to eat/to cook?”
SL: “I really like making pizza from scratch; from the dough to the toppings.”
86’d Life: “Any advice for anyone coming into the service industry?”
SL: “Don’t give up. The more a person goes through in the kitchen (or service industry) the more experience they gain. For women, I’d tell them to not listen to anyone around them. A lot of people will doubt and judge you for being a female in the kitchen but just by being there it shows that you’re a strong and independent person. And don’t let anyone push you around like a rag doll.
86’d Life: “Do you find it slightly more difficult for women to excel in this industry, especially in the back of the house? Do you have any advice for aspiring female chefs out there?
SL: “I would say that I believe being in the kitchen on the line is harder for women. You have to constantly be “one of the boys” and be able to keep up with them. Also, I believe that women have a lot more responsibilities outside of work than men do, so it’s hard to be able to be so dedicated to the job. On top of all that, every institution has its own stereotype towards women to begin with. Unfortunately, with that stereotype a lot of them (restaurants/businesses) would rather just hire men. Women are constantly told that they nag, complain or talk too much, and in this industry you have to learn to work together and get along. It’s not impossible to be a woman in the industry; you just have to have thick skin and can’t give up.”
86’d Life: “Lastly, where do you see yourself in the next five years?
SL: “After the next five years, I see myself beginning the preparation towards owning my own establishment. In the meantime, I see myself working in various departments of the industry mainly management in order to prepare myself for all aspects of this business.”
Current Restaurant: Fairmount Country Club – New Jersey
Current Title/Job: Grill Chef/Expeditor
Shalimar Liuzza attended Morris County Vocational school of technology for Culinary Arts. After attending the Morris County Vocational School she continued her studies at Morris County College for Hospitality Management and received her Associates Degree in the same field. Ms Liuzza is currently attending Fairleigh Dickinson University for Hospitality Restaurant Ownership and Management and working on completing her Bachelors Degree. The 86’D Life would like to wish her the best of luck in continuing her culinary career!
Interview taken by Neil Strebig at The 86’D Life.