Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford, Founder and Culinary Director of Legit Concepts in Richmond Hill, GA shares his career timeline and advice for up-and-coming talent.

I think it's important to recognize the jobs that excite you and scare you. Those are really the things that you should be doing. Those things will keep you at the edge, push you to grow, get better; they are going to take you the furthest in your career, even if they don't make sense in the beginning.

No matter what you do, no matter where you do it, if it's captivating to you, if it feels purposeful to you, you're going to be able to walk away from that experience better at what you do – better as a chef, better as a cook, better as a manager, better as a leader.
Quite honestly, I wouldn't be where I am if I didn't have pieces of wisdom from all my mentors, teachers, coaches, and instructors over the years – but there are three that stick out to me. (1) First, fail forward. (2) Second, proximity is power. (3) The third piece of advice came from my dad when he said, “I don't really care what it is that you do, just try to be the best at it that you can be.” That was something that has always pushed me and continues to push me to learn more, to serve my clients better, to serve my customers better, to serve my guests better. That desire to be the best at whatever it is that I'm doing has led me down a very fulfilling path and continues to help me seek to be better at what I do.
Remember to embrace the little failures. By pushing myself through failure and to try and then coming up short in the small game, I end up avoiding big level failures.
Be around people who add value to a business. You need to be surrounded by those who challenge and inspire you. If you're not, it's an absolute drain on your day to day. It’s great to be a chef and be able to build that culture and be able to nurture that environment when you put the work into it. And I think that can be one of the most rewarding parts of being a chef. This advice has driven me to put tons of effort into my teams over the years.
I can't think of a job or an internship that I did that hasn't impacted my career. Every single one of them has taught me a lesson of what to do, what not to do or what I can do better. In the beginning as a young cook, I thought that I needed to have the perfect path planned out, but it never really worked out that way. You can start off down a road learning as much as humanly possible, but life is going to happen. You're going to get bumped in different directions. You're going to get taken down different paths as you go. You're going to see something that sparks your curiosity or teaches you more about yourself or teaches you about a passion that you may not necessarily realize.
To maintain a healthy work/life balance, I have to prioritize my health. I often talk about the “after 30 rule” where so many of us get into that habit of saying, “Oh, when I find time or when I get around to it.” And I think right around that time when you hit 30, you've got enough responsibility between your work, your family and your life that there isn't just spare time laying around. And like with anything, if you're not scheduling time for it, if you're not focusing on it, it's never going to get done. Your health is no different.
I have to take the time to make sure that I'm being healthy. I block out time. That's probably one of the most useful yet, the simplest, most often overlooked pieces is just really setting out with a plan. Blocking out time to go to the gym, blocking out the time to meditate, blocking out the time to unwind in the car on the way home. We all wind up and we all get our mise en place together to go to work. But I need to make sure that I get my mise en place together for when I go home. I wind down so that I'm ready to be at home when I'm home. I'm ready to be at the gym when I'm at the gym. And those things really require effort, concentration, and a little bit of discipline.
I have a pretty set regimen of things that I need to do in order to have the energy to work at the level that I need to, day in and day out. I need to make sure I exercise five days a week, at minimum. I need to make sure I'm meditating four days a week, for at least 10 minutes a day. Doing so makes a big impact on how I show up in my environments, with my teams, in my business.
When hiring, I look for people who have a curiosity about knowing more about food. I look for people who have a passion that I can identify. It doesn't necessarily have to be in the business, but I want to know about what turns their gears.
When I'm looking for an attitude in a professional to hire, I'm looking for someone who can complement the skills that my team needs. I make sure that I start off with an assessment of what I'm really looking for when I'm hiring for a position. And I try and tailor my search to what's missing from the team. If I'm looking for an Executive Sous Chef, I'm looking for somebody who can complement my weaknesses so that way we are much stronger as a whole together. Regardless, I'm looking for somebody who has a general sense of gratitude, someone who has a caring demeanor, and somebody who has a passion to be intense about the work that we're going to do.
I think the key to keeping my team inspired, motivated, and educated is keeping them challenged and continuing to give them an opportunity to prove what they know. To give an opportunity to push them, to test their limits, to succeed. I think it's really important to create situations where the team can fail or succeed. And I think putting people in those environments and in situations where they're being tested really forces them to step up. I think people are far more capable than they give themselves credit for and I think it's important to make sure that people are kept at the edge and held accountable for knowing what they need to know.
I created my business to serve professional chefs and provide the tools that have served me well over my career to others who want to master their craft – master the craft of cooking, master the craft of leadership, master their world. I love this field and being able to share what I know motivates me more than anything else that I've ever done.
I think we're at an amazing time in the world. I think we have incredible resources. I think we have access to the best food that's possibly available. I think we have an opportunity to create an amazing industry for the future, and I'm inspired to share what I know so that the entire industry can level up. I have a firm belief that we can create the industry of the future that we want. I want to make sure that everybody can see that vision and take responsibility for what our industry can be.
I find inspiration in everything. I find inspiration in a piece of art, in a meal, in a magazine, in a book. As a chef, it's not hard for me to take a piece of art and want to create a plate, but even more so now doing media, video, online courses and consulting, I can find a place for anything that inspires me. Anything that makes me feel that little tinge of “Wow, that's really interesting. How can I use that?” I truly find inspiration all over the place.
I can’t live without my health to do my job. I need massive amounts of energy. I need to be at my best, so for me to serve, for me to provide, and for me to show up the way I need to, I need my health. I do nobody any good, be it in my family or with my team if I'm not showing up at a hundred percent. I think that ties well back into having a healthy work-lifestyle balance, which it's tough.
I've never understood how you're supposed to have a work life balance when you work roughly 10 to 14 hours a day, six days a week. You've got to find time to sleep in there and you're certainly not spending 10 hours with your family. So, I think the balance part is very, very difficult to obtain, but maintaining health, taking the time to get my mind right, taking the time to be fit, taking the time to eat a proper meal makes a world of difference in my energy levels and it allows me to show up at my absolute best, no matter what it is that I'm doing.

Disclaimer: Individuals featured in the Inspirational Career Timelines section have been nominated by peers, colleagues and/or other members of the hospitality industry. It is to the best of our knowledge that each individual has demonstrated leadership and acted as a positive role model for others.

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Inspirational Career Timelines

Find your inspiration in the unique career timelines and words of advice these industry leaders have shared.

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Chief Operating Officer & Executive VP
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Executive Chef / Owner
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Fitswell Apron Company

Abram Bissell
Vice President, Culinary
Sydell Group

Johnny Iuzzini
Culinary Director
ChoLon Restaurant Concepts

Carlton McCoy
Master Sommelier, President and CEO
Heitz Cellar

Pierre Siue
Director Of Operations
The Dinex Group - Chef Daniel Boulud

Melissa Walnock
Lecturing Instructor / Pastry Chef
The Culinary Institute of America

Jeffrey Porter
Learning the Vines Consulting - Hospitality & Beverage Consulting

AJ Schaller
Executive Chef
Cuisine Solutions; CREA

Jason Franey
Executive Chef
Juniper and Ivy

Joe Campanale
Owner and Beverage Director

Erling Wu-Bower
Ripe Fruit, Underscore Hospitality

Sylva Senat
Chef Partner
Senat & Co

Raj Vaidya
Private Wine Consultant
Raji Wine Consulting

Cesar Gutierrez
Private Chef
McAndrews and Forbes Group

Chris Baggetta
Marketing Manager
Moet Hennessy USA

Edouardo Jordan
Chef and Owner
Salare Restaurant and Junebaby

Jillian Rocco
District Manager
Tatte Bakery & Cafe

Kevin Doherty
Executive Chef
Delaware North Companies Sportservice at TD Garden

Graceanne Jordan
Hospitality, Partnerships, and Investments
Milstein Companies

Donald Madia
Owner and Partner
One Off Hospitality Group

Norman Van Aken
Strategic Alliance Partner Chef
Strategic Solution Partners

Rachel Wong
Assistant General Manager of Food & Beverage
Nine Orchard (Mattos Hospitality)

Mark Yu
Chef de Cuisine

Jenner Tomaska
Executive Chef and Owner

Tony Messina
Executive Chef

Daniel Boulud
Chef Daniel Boulud Restaurants

Ian Goldberg
Boka Restaurant Group

Jonathan Lind
Bar Director
Crown Shy

Rodrigo Rodriguez
Executive General Manager
Quality Meats and Quality Italian

Alison Cates
Executive Pastry Chef
Butcher & Bee Charleston

Mark Lapico
ViP of Culinary Operations
Jean-Georges Managment

Brooke Bobyak
Bella Union