Kelly Nam

Kelly Nam

Executive Pastry Chef & Partner at Joomak Banjum

The job that most impacted my career was when I started working at L'espalier in Boston, it’s where I met Chef Jiho Kim. Since then, we've worked on and off together. Eleven years later I was able to open Joomak Banjum as his partner.

When I found myself going through cookbooks or coming up with dessert ideas after a long and tiring day of work, I knew this profession was right for me. (I actually found myself diving more into it after an especially gruesome day.)
Personally, as a young cook, I've never looked at myself as a female chef. I didn't want to give myself a handicap by thinking, 'because I'm a female...' I believed that once I defined myself as 'female,' I gave the other party every reason to view me as one. So I saw myself just as a cook and as a chef. As a leader, it gave me a different perspective on how I should view myself. Now, as a female leader in our industry, I’ve felt that it has started to fall heavily on me to be a good role model. What I thought was a handicap is now something very powerful.
When hiring, I look for people with a positive attitude, someone who's looking to learn, and someone I can also learn from. We never stop learning, and I believe there is something to learn from everyone. Also, I can teach skills but I can't teach attitude.
The young cooks who are following in our footsteps is what keeps me going. It's a lot of pressure to be a leader in our industry when there are so many aspiring cooks who are looking up to us – it motivates me to be a better chef.
I honestly find inspiration from everything. It can simply be a color combination, an art installation, the flavor profile of a bottle of wine, a whiff of something I got, etc.
I'm usually the person who's the bad cop. I'm the one who holds everyone accountable. Everyone also knows I'm blunt and speak what I believe is the truth. So, I end up becoming the therapist or the vent bucket for my colleagues. I may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I am there for my colleagues when they need me. I honestly feel like a mother hen sometimes.
I'm a snack queen. I love munching, and I love being able to make snacks for my team when I have time. Happy stomach, happy employees.
I've been on the verge of being burnt out often. I've tried yoga and meditation. I even bought books that told you how to prevent burnout. What has actually helped me was ensuring I kept time for myself apart from work. It sounds simple, but it is also the hardest thing to do. Separating work from my personal life and being able to say “No” when I have to, has been helpful. I also think having a hobby or hobbies that can keep your thoughts away from work helps.

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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