City: San Francisco, California

Passion: Hospitality

Business Site: www.picniconthird.com

Personal Site: Kitchit Profile

 

The first thing that came to mind when I met Natalia was Passion. I kept hearing from different friends about this super incredible woman, who landed at Chez Panisse's kitchen door and now is pursuing her dream of opening a cafe and running multiple food initiatives in SF. Natalia opened her home for us and with true hospitality served us a delicious white fish dish and incredible wine. We learned about where her confidence and passion come from. I also learned what a huge heart she has. Natalia offered to help me with a fundraiser and followed through, giving her all despite her busy schedule. The truth is that she does it with everyone and everything.

On Passion

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I’m from South Carolina and had an acre garden growing up so I have always been growing, gathering, preparing and preserving food. My momma also encouraged my brother and I to cook in the kitchen. I experimented in our home kitchen following the expected path of high school and college. After college, I moved to Chicago in anticipation of going to Northwestern to pursue my Physical Anthropology career in academia. Waiting for the fall semester- and the coldest winter in the past decade- I found myself throwing dinner parties a few times a week. I decided then that my passion was cooking and hospitality and I should pursue it.

On Mastery

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I started with recognizing my passion, coming up with a plan and then putting all of my energy into it. When I was an unpaid intern at Chez Panisse, I biked 10 miles to work at 6 am and got home at 7 or 8 pm nightly. Slept and repeated. It was my world and I had the space to do it with no distractions.
I have lived in the Bay Area for 5 years now and have worked in 3 Top 100 Best of the Bay Restaurants: Chez Panisse, Camino & Foreign Cinema. I also went to a start-up catering company and grew it from 2 to 50 employees in a little over a year and a half. Currently, I’m opening my own space in SOMA called Picnic on Third. During construction of the restaurant, I teach cooking lessons and also throw dinner parties using Kitchit.

On Transition

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I enrolled in culinary school in Chicago and told my family (they weren’t surprised at all). After a month of school, I decided I should get into a kitchen. I dropped out and flew to the Bay Area, and with no formal kitchen experience, I walked into Chez Panisse and asked if I could have an internship. They accepted!

On Failure

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I am not sure if I would call this a failure or just part of the process. With me, I started from scratch in a kitchen. Compared to the other cooks my age, I was way behind and had years of learning, practicing, and honing my skills to become competitive or even hireable. I had amazing mentors and was able to execute and repeat the techniques sufficiently and then proficiently.
I have been an intern, line cook, executive chef and now a business owner/chef and am able to troubleshoot more effectively. I am capable of extracting the lesson from the failure and moving forward.

On Fear

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My biggest fear is that my body will not be able to keep up with my career. I am generally healthy: I exercise, eat well and get enough sleep, but I get very sick about once a year. Two years ago, I had a H.Pylori (stomach ulcer) and last year I suffered from the symptoms of typhoid. I also have sustained neck and back injuries that flare up.
My biggest fear about living my passion was money. Line cooks make about $12 an hour and living in San Francisco is very expensive. I had to figure out how to thrive in this industry. I generally overcome my fears by visualizing myself overcoming them. Usually, it is an interaction or situation that I fear so I envision myself running through the situation multiple times before going into it.

On Money

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I decided to become a cook right after college, so I didn’t have a lifestyle yet. It was easy to move out here and follow the dream. Money became difficult when I wanted to travel again. I moved to catering for a more money and a daytime/weekday schedule.

On Self-Love

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Self-love for me equals confidence, whether unfounded or not. I think my confidence and sheer drive have allowed for me to move up in this industry.
I take care of myself by setting limits and having days off. Running a kitchen is a stressful and rigorous job: on-call every day of the week. Boundaries really help and travel, of course, without technology. I don’t work out but my job is very physical and I do enjoy biking.

On Inspiration

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My husband, Jesse inspires me. He encourages and supports me to master my craft. He is also very driven in his career and is an excellent soundboard for strategy and career moves. My momma also inspires me. She is my biggest fan and has been my cheerleader for a long time.

On Support

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I have a ton of mentors in all departments: Legal, Financial, Life, Food. One of my favorite food mentors is Leigh Loper. We started line cooking together three and a half years ago at Foreign Cinema and then she was my right hand at the catering company. She is extremely talented, knowledgeable and involved with food. She is my other half in the kitchen.

Advice to the Community 

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I think the first thing is identifying your passion (Note: my definition of passion is something that you naturally gravitate to and do in your spare time). You should be learning and practicing your passion when you are not working. Also, I think there is a big difference between passion as a hobby and passion as your job. Do the research, do it part-time and test it out. It would be a shame to jump into something that you do not find fun anymore or don’t have the skills necessary to execute. If you find yourself thinking about your passion and practicing/learning it, then go for it. Jump in with a smile, it’s fun!

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