The Wisdom of Joyce Goldstein

Joyce Goldstein is a restaurant consultant, food scholar, and true culinary icon. The James Beard Foundation named her Best Chef: California in 1994 and also included her in the Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America. She worked as a chef of the Café at Chez Panisse; was the founder and director of the California Street Cooking School, San Francisco’s first international cooking school; and co-founded Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, which aims to advance the voices of women across the industry.

But Goldstein is probably best known as the chef-owner of the groundbreaking Mediterranean restaurant Square One in San Francisco – and for the 28 highly acclaimed cookbooks she’s authored.

Goldstein was recently honored by Women Chefs and Restaurateurs. so we took the opportunity to talk to her – as well as to some of her admirers – to glean these pearls of wisdom on leadership, work, and life.

First and foremost, be present. “There’s such an emphasis on getting famous that some chefs are not at their restaurant enough,” says Goldstein. “There’s an obsession with PR and getting your name out. Opening multiple places and not bonding with staff and customers is a mistake.”

There’s no substitute for hard work. Amaryll Schwertner, chef owner Boulettes Larder & Boulibar says, “At the restaurant Joyce was a mother, dedicated to the work. Kitchens are demanding environments; having examples of women continuing their work and  the complexities of similar home circumstances, was an important experience.”

Focus on relationships. Regulars are a boon to any business. “Being a neighborhood restaurant keeps you afloat,” says Goldstein. “The lemmings come and go. You have to bond with your staff and regular customers. Build a team and make them feel appreciated.

If your staff is happy, your customers are happy. When you try out new people, have them trail and if the staff doesn’t like them—don’t hire them!”

Mentor by setting an example. “Show up, teach, deal with diverse personalities, keep a balance of opinions, let staff know you support them,” Goldstein advises. “Set an example.” 

Keep learning, keep educating. “A good chef educates both the front and the back of the house.” At Square One, Goldstein kept a lending library of books and made sure staff had the opportunity to taste new dishes. “It all comes down to education. People need to feel confident. Encourage people to take classes – it will also increase their sense of worth.” 

Give honest feedback. “You can’t love everybody’s food but you can be constructive in your feedback,” Goldstein says. “Everybody is working hard.” Before Mat Schuster opened his restaurant Canela Bistro & Wine Bar Goldstein came in and critiqued the menu. “It meant a lot to me.” Shelley Lindgren, wine director and owner of A16, adds, “Joyce is always a straight shooter, and this has been a guiding light for me.” 

Give credit and acknowledge your staff. “If someone has contributed to a dish, give them credit at staff briefings,” said Goldstein. “It’s a way of showing respect for your staff. When someone’s recipe goes in a book, it would be good to give credit there, too.” 

Keep your cool. “Have patience, don’t lose your temper in public, take people on a walk outside the restaurant if you have to, discuss things,” Golstein says. “When you lose your temper, you lose your credibility. Also, she warns against bad-mouthing others: “Words have power. It comes back to bite you if you say something negative.” 

Advocate for simplicity and taste. Food writer and Tablehopper founder Marcia Gagliardi says, “Joyce has always been an advocate for pure taste, full and authentic flavor, and soulful cuisine—no tricks, no muddled flavors, no tweezer food.” Adds David Nayfeld, chef co-owner Che Fico and Che Fico Alimentari, “Joyce is a purist and classicist in the sense that she tries to put as little embellishment or interpretation on dishes as possible and does them in the way she believes is the most straightforward.”

Become an expert. Goldstein has rigorously studied Jewish food history and the culinary revolution of California. “She is a detail oriented person and an expert at taste making and at food history,” says Elizabeth Falkner, consulting chef and Women Chefs and Restaurateurs board president. Schwertner adds, “Joyce is disciplined and deeply referenced. It was this aspect of her work which influenced me the most.”

Stay connected to the industry. Nicole Krasinski, chef and co-owner at State Bird Provisions and The Progress, says, “Watching how Joyce has stayed connected to the food industry though all its shifts and changes has been a great inspiration. Having her perspective and wisdom as a groundbreaking woman in the kitchen has helped keep me pushing forward.” 

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