In this episode, we speak with Chef Austin Yancey, CEO and Founder of Elite Personal Chefs, a platform where high-level culinary professionals can offer their services to clients.
Before founding his company, Chef Austin served as a culinary instructor at Le Cordon Bleu, Kendall College, and Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. He also held a chef role at the world-renowned 3-Michelin-star restaurant Alinea in Chicago.
Listen as we chat with Chef Austin about working in a Michelin star restaurant, his experience teaching and mentoring young chefs, and the opportunities that exist for culinarians in the private chef world.
Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish.
In today’s episode we’re speaking with Chef Austin Yancey, CEO and Founder of Elite Personal Chefs, a platform where high-level culinary professionals can offer their services to clients. Austin has years of experience as a culinary instructor at institutions such as Le Cordon Bleu, Kendall College, and Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. He was also a former Chef at the world-renowned three-Michelin star restaurant, Alinea, in Chicago. Join us today as we chat with Austin about his experience teaching and mentoring young chefs and the opportunities that exist for culinarians in the personal and private chef world.
Welcome Austin! How are you, buddy?
Austin Yancey: I’m good. Chef. Thank you so much. Very excited to be here.
Kirk Bachmann: I’m out of breath introducing you, can I just say? I’m out of breath. Where are you? You’re in Chicago, right?
Austin Yancey: In Chicago downtown. Yes, sir.
Kirk Bachmann: Awesome. What’s over your left hand? Is it your left shoulder?
Austin Yancey: So a little artwork here. My wife was an art major at the University of Michigan. She moved to Chicago to sell art at 21 years old. Obviously, we know how that goes – she started working in restaurants. (laughter) Like we all do. “It’s not working mom. It’s not working.” So got into restaurants, but then once in restaurants… because she’s obviously brilliant.
Kirk Bachmann: Yeah, talented.
Austin Yancey: 100%. Yeah, she saw that the check average goes up if I sell more alcohol. Interesting.
Kirk Bachmann: Wow, wow.
Austin Yancey: She took a legitimate interest in that. So if I can sell alcohol to the table, I make more money. Well, how do I sell something better? I learn the craft. Get better at the craft. So she jumped into the wine world and started going down the sommelier path. And of course, like we all need mentors, which I’m sure you and I will get into that in our personal relationship. Mentors are important. They help guide you as you’re young and up and coming. And she ended up at a Michelin three-star restaurant selling wine as an assistant sommelier and started going down the path of taking the exams. Because I was at Alinea, three-star Michelin, she was at L2O, three-star Michelin. We all hung out at the same grungy dive bars because we’re all poor, working in the Michelin three-star world. And that’s how we met.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. And I love the names. I’ve been in Boulder now for six years, I guess. But you know, we got to know each other in Chicago. Oh, wow. Some great, great restaurants, right? Oh, my gosh. But when I think about you, this is a very special day for me. I’m not going to beat around the bush, you’re a special human being. I was fortunate enough to meet you when you were very young in your career.
Austin Yancey: I was thinking about that. I was like 24 or something like that.
Kirk Bachmann: Some might say you were confident. So that’s what I used to say, “Oh, no, no, Austin’s just confident.” No, I always appreciated it. I could remember, I think we were in Michigan. We were in Detroit that time or at the craps table. But it was an ACF conference. I think you won some competition there as well. We’ll get into all the competitions and stuff. But we’ve had a lot of fun over the years. But you know, on a personal note, how’s the family? How are you guys coming out of the pandemic?
Austin Yancey: Oh, thanks for asking. Restaurants went through something that we could never have imagined over the last 18 months. Everybody was doing their best. Anyone who survived during that time will be fine. And a lot didn’t. People that survive personally, much less as a business. A lot of businesses closed shop. And now we’re still coming out of it. As the stimulus packages, assisting people to stay home and not work, it’s still continuing to have an effect on the business in a negative way because they’re just trying to get back to full capacity and pay people. So it’s difficult. Personally, my wife has a restaurant company in three states with 19 stores and I own a personal chef and culinary company. So we’ve felt it pretty hard over the last 18 months.
Kirk Bachmann: And your little one is…?
Austin Yancey: Almost three.
Kirk Bachmann: Almost three.
Austin Yancey: Little JT. He’s oblivious to it all so good for him, right?
Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. Well, he’s got mommy and daddy.
Austin Yancey: He’s got mommy and daddy and Peppa Pig. As long as Peppa Pig is on board.
Kirk Bachmann: Peppa doesn’t go away. Let me just tell ya. Peppa does not go away. Hey, so let’s talk about Alinea just for a minute. I mean, we almost have to set the stage for folks. We were just talking about this earlier, whatever it was 20 years ago, Grant Achatz and his team. I mean, they were doing things that were unheard of. Very unassuming, could barely see the sign. I don’t even know if there was a sign. Was there a sign on the front of the restaurant? I mean, it was really…you had to know where it was. Right?
Austin Yancey: It definitely had that mystery about it. When I tell people all the time about Michelin three-star, those that haven’t worked there nor eaten there, I would go do one of those two things before coming up with an opinion. You need to try it, you need to see it, you need to be a part of it. Because from a working there standpoint, it’s very amazing. Every single individual is striving for perfection every second of their day. And if it’s below perfect, you’re failing. So it’s this unattainable goal of perfection that you can never reach yet. It’s the push for it. That makes it great.
Kirk Bachmann: And the chef is the orchestra leader trying to make sure that everyone’s on point
Austin Yancey: 100% and everyone down to whatever you would consider in the lowest position is also striving for perfection. Even if it’s just cleaning something, you need to be perfect. On the diner side, you are not in a restaurant, you are in theater. You’re lost in a world where everything around you is dissolving into the mist if you will, and you forget about time, you forget where you are. You’re so comfortable enjoying this ethereal experience that you couldn’t have imagined in your mind that you forget that you’re eating dinner somewhere.
Kirk Bachmann: Keyword, experience. So for the audience: Michelin one-star, worth turning off the road and stopping by. Michelin two-star, definitely turning off the road, you might even map it out. And Michelin three-star, you build your entire vacation and you mortgage your house against it.
Austin Yancey: 100%. It’s worth visiting that country to go to that restaurant.
Kirk Bachmann: (laughter) So what was that like for you? You were there three years, right?
Austin Yancey: I was there just under two. I spent a year in the kitchen in the year in the dining room. Okay. Okay. So both of those experiences. Unbelievable. I guess it’s very hard to describe. Yes, obviously high stress. Yes, it’s hard. But that’s the point. I was in my early 20s at the time. So had you know, the energy to just go go go go, bring it on, and have the attitude. Yeah, yeah, go go go, bring it on. And it was unbelievable.
Kirk Bachmann: I can remember those days too. And then you came to work for us. At Le Cordon Bleu there in Chicago, and you brought that passion. And you brought that level of expectation to the classroom to the hallways, and it was a fun time. Well, it was a transition period, for sure. Well, we all kind of felt like we kind of lived and worked at Alinea through you right back in those days. So that definitely was a special time. All right, let’s back it up a little bit, where did the love for cooking come from… South Carolina, right?
Austin Yancey: You know you get that question a lot. You know, why do you like to cook and where does it come from and all of that and it’s hard to answer really. I grew up next door to my grandmother, she literally lived next door. My grandfather and grandmother moved to where they lived back in the 60s and gave my dad a plot of land next door he built his house had me. So growing up, Grandma’s next door. Mom and Dad have to work. I spent most of my time there. And this is a traditional Southern cook. Always something on the stove, cast iron everywhere. Every Sunday after church and lunch type of deal. If you walk next door and said I’m hungry. Boom, something’s happening. And it’s not I’m going to pull some deli meat and some white bread out of the cabinet. Oh no, it’s, “I’m going to make buttermilk biscuits from scratch.”
Kirk Bachmann: While you sit here and watch.
Austin Yancey: Yeah, exactly. And I was the guy, the little kid who’s always in it. She tells a story about I was three or four years old and be on the floor with a bain-marie. And one of those hand-crank whisks. Yeah, with like soap and water in it and just like whisking the bubbles or if anything came out of the pan, even if it was hot, I would burn myself eating it over and over and over again because I couldn’t wait to go to the plate. Just typical.
Kirk Bachmann: I just love the theme. There are so many great cooks that we speak with over our careers they point to their grandma, they point to being in the kitchen, whether under the table and getting dusted in flour oftentimes. Do you feel like your cooking style has inherited some of that?
Austin Yancey: Um, that’s a great question. I don’t necessarily think my cooking style, what I think happened was my maybe thirst for knowledge. And thirst to learn more about it and understand it and I have started there. We’ve recently started this project, which I’m sure we’ll talk about, but to pay homage to my grandmother we created a restaurant concept called Mimi’s Place. And we’ve now since spun off a breakfast concept and a brunch concept using her legitimate old-school recipes. We actually lost her last year, not-COVID related. She was 92. And we created this concept just to kind of keep that memory and that idea alive and pay homage to where I started.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that. I love that story. Why Chicago? So how old are you when… are you in high school?
Austin Yancey: Good story, this is a good story. So high school for me total waste of time, I hated it. I got a job. When I turned 15 years old, I already had the job lined up, I couldn’t legally start work until I turned 15. I did all the interviewing and whatnot. Turned 15 at midnight started the next day. School then became whatever to me. I’m not saying anyone else should follow this by any means. I’m just saying my story. And I worked my way through high school to you know, be able to buy a car and do things I wanted to do. And so I knew I needed a job and I immediately dove into the culinary world. All I’ve ever done in every place I’ve ever worked has been some way hospitality. And yeah, dropping you know, french fries in the deep fryer, fry, and chicken, the whole deal, I worked at Outback Steakhouse, actually. And so post high school I did what everybody does and has no idea what they want to do. I followed my friends to whatever school they went to, which happened to the University of South Carolina. I was a bio major, little-known fact, voted, most likely in my high school to be a professional fisherman. So that’s legit. So big-time into the outdoors and fishing and whatnot, grew up fishing, that sort of thing and golfing, right? Yeah, yeah, that’s more, that’s I’ll never be a professional golfer or the least likely to be a professional golfer. So no worries there.
Kirk Bachmann: Me too. Me too. (laughter)
Austin Yancey: So I go to college, hate every second of it, feels like an extension of high school. So I started cooking and hosting essentially parties like a restaurant in my own apartment. So charging money at the door, had a menu posted.
Kirk Bachmann: Pop-ups, when they didn’t exist.
Austin Yancey: Yeah in the middle of nowhere, Spartanburg, South Carolina, and started pursuing the idea of culinary school. I didn’t like what I was doing, loved the culinary piece, loved cooking. I was actually starting to make money to the point of I paid for all the ingredients, but then also paid for the friends that came over. Hey, it’s kind of like a restaurant. So I actually was thinking about New York, LA, or Chicago. And New York seemed kind of scary. And LA seemed kind of far. And Chicago seemed interesting.
Kirk Bachmann: It’s perfect, yeah.
Austin Yancey: So what did I do? I visited in late May. When Chicago is perfect. Not a cloud in the sky. Lincoln Park. Got tickets to a Cubs game.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh, gosh.
Austin Yancey: Yeah, I go to the Cubs game. It’s amazing, at Wrigley. Looking at apartments, found one that’s decently attainable. The bus is easy to get down to the school. Toured Le Cordon Bleu. We walk out of the tour of Le Cordon Bleu. And I look at my mom and I’m like, “I’m moving here in a month. Just so you know.”
Kirk Bachmann: What about grandma? Grandma’s okay with it all?
Austin Yancey: Grandma’s cool with it. She’s happy to go for it. Yeah, my uncle actually has cooked his whole life. He just never went down, like the high-level professional road. So she understands, kind of, what the industry is like. But I know that if I’m gonna do this, I just, by the way, quit college, I have to make it. I have to be successful. There’s no choice.
Kirk Bachmann: And so it kind of feels that to go to school, you do the Chicago thing. Did you work while you’re in school?
Austin Yancey: I did. So this is another good story. I got involved with school, in two weeks in an email went out to the entire student body, which I found out later was all culinary schools in the area, that a local chef wanted an assistant for the Bocuse d’Or. And that’s a big competition, a global competition held in France every two years, where there’s 24 countries represented. And the executive chef must have a commis, and a commis being an assistant. And that assistant must be 22 years old or younger by the competition day, which is years from then because you’re just now trying out to go through the routine to win the chance to even go and then you have to practice to go to the competition.
Kirk Bachmann: Great explanation. You should have a podcast, you should definitely have a podcast.
Austin Yancey: I’m in, Chef, I can do this once a week. (laughter)
Kirk Bachmann: Okay, okay, so you get selected?
Austin Yancey: Well, I apply. And I’m two weeks into culinary school, okay? So, I don’t know anything. But I apply. I’m like, “What do I have to lose? Let’s try it. Let’s see.” I go down and he’s giving a written exam. His name is Chef. He’s my first mentor and teacher I owe him as much as I owe you. And Chef Jeff and other mentors in my life. But that test was a written test, a culinary test. Remember two weeks in two weeks? I don’t know a thing, right? So we go down there and I remember looking at the test and I’m reading the questions. I don’t know any of them. And one of them, I remember distinctly said, “Just name as many mushrooms as you can.” So many types of mushrooms and I’m thinking, “I know portabello and button, okay, those are like the two with the grocery store. Got it.” So I write that down. And then you go down to the next question. And it literally says, “By the way, portabello and button don’t count.” And I’m just like, I just turned in a test, I just gave it to him. And I’m like, “I’m sorry, Chef.” And they were like, “Don’t worry, don’t worry, just come down, we’re gonna have a cooking competition.” So there was one round, we cooked off. There were six of us from three different schools in the area, the top three got to come back for round two. I placed third, came back for round two, and then won the position. So we found out later, which started which really stuck with me for my entire life to this day, it wasn’t about the cooking. It wasn’t about the food that you made. And it wasn’t about the test. It was about the willingness, the push the drive to be successful. And that’s the key to it.
Kirk Bachmann: And you had that. You know, now that you brought up the story, I remember it, but I have completely forgotten. That’s a big piece of the Austin story.
Austin Yancey: It is. And that’s the high-level view. Because without Le Cordon Bleu, and the mentors, there never would have happened.
Kirk Bachmann: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that that’s the seating there. So let’s, before we jump over to Elite, I want to talk about your time as a teacher, what is the spark there to want to give back? I mean, clearly, you had your own path. You saw a lot in Alinea. Right? And then you come back and you start a cooking club at a school we never had one before you start that? What where’s that spark come from, to want to give back?
Austin Yancey: When you see an individual who… in yourself, right? You see yourself, I guess in an individual who wants to push as hard as they can, and suck in everything they can to maximize their time, you just grab a gravitate towards that person. And I’m like, I’ll show you what it’s really gonna take to be successful on a level that you want to achieve. And most of those are, you know, the higher achievers, their passion is probably to work at a place like Alinea, like they are they think that it is, but really what they’re saying is I just want to be the best I can be. I said, “Okay, the classroom is designed for everybody. So it accommodates all learning styles and all abilities, but those that want to like get that little extra and really push, let’s create something, let’s create an environment for you.” It’s not mandatory, and we can make it whatever we want to make it. Because we’re going to do it on the weekends, when there’s no class.
Kirk Bachmann: So it’s extra, it’s on top everything else.
Austin Yancey: Yeah, exactly. And if you want it, I’m more than happy to give it to you. So let’s do this thing and see what it becomes. And it actually became quite successful. I think we posted somewhere around 63 medals, student medals, for the school over a span of five years.
Kirk Bachmann: But you also recruited former students, other chefs got involved, it became sort of a cultural thing. And then fast forward, you have to take a bow for some of this. We ultimately for the first time ever on that campus hosted the training sessions for the Mastership exam through the American Culinary Federation, which was unheard of. Because it never took place anyplace else other than that school on the East Coast, right? (laughter)
Austin Yancey: Absolutely. Yeah. It was amazing, because we had the students who could help understand that level that everybody was pushing for, and be able to be involved but not overly involved.
Kirk Bachmann: Yeah.
Austin Yancey: Also what was really cool was from a fundraising perspective. I mean, we spent a lot of time fundraising. We raised almost $100,000 as a club, and then I got to just spend it on the students. If they wanted a new piece of equipment. I think we bought like crazy blenders and a paco jet at one point in time. I was trying to really teach the student, it’s not about winning the competition, that has nothing to do with anything. It’s about the experience of getting there and then doing it and all the people you’re going to meet and people who are going to see you. And the outcome post-competition, regardless of the color of metal around your neck, that’s irrelevant. You have a bunch of metals, they sit in my room and collect dust. Yeah, that doesn’t mean anything. It was the experience of getting there. That’s what we were trying to show them.
Kirk Bachmann: The journey, the journey. Let’s talk about some of those medals, too. So two-part, I want to come back to, in your mind, what makes a great cook or a great chef, but while you were teaching as well, you still had that sort of fire, to compete yourself. And like I said, we competed, you competed in Detroit.
Austin Yancey: We have to go back to that story for a quick second because it’s hilarious. And I’m not sure how much you remember of it, because you were also receiving a medal. By the way. Let’s talk about the medal you received at that conference. So while we were even there together.
Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. Well, that’s kind of you to say. But yeah, that was a great time. That was the President’s Medal and I was really, really honored. I think the honor comes from the fact that when you win a competition, or you’re recognized at events like that, it’s from your peers. So it’s your peers are saying, “Hey, thank you, you’re a great example of what we’re trying to achieve.” So it was good to be able to share that. You were there.
Austin Yancey: Yeah, we were there. So I was competing in a rice competition, as well as a cheese competition. And usually, you don’t get selected for both. But we got selected for both. And this was a regional and you went there to receive a President’s Medal, which is a big deal. Yeah, so we got to spend some time together. And of course, we’re in a casino, and I moonlight as a craps pitcher.
Kirk Bachmann: I wasn’t gonna go there, but do it, do it. (laughter)
Austin Yancey: And we also play a little roulette and really any casino game, but the rice competition is first. And there’s a little funny anecdote for that where I was using duck eggs, and we got the duck eggs in Chicago opened up the egg and an actual duck fell out of it. That’s called a balut. Because we accidentally grabbed the wrong type of egg and had to solve that problem. But regardless, we win the competition for the rice. And immediately behind it, no time to think is the cheese one. So we go right into that one. And I remember just having this interesting dish, I mean, I think it was using like sliced beets, and I dyed them to look like tomatoes, and yada-yada-yada, kind of a fancy Caprese salad, if you will. But the point is, you’re nervous looking. And I still look up and see you and I had just won the first one. And I’m working on the second one, and probably not going to win this one. But hey, we’ll give it a shot. And I had a huge phone check. They gave you one of those silly phones.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh yes, yes, yes. (laughter)
Austin Yancey: Of course. It’s just for a prop. And it was funny too, you know, so I got it sitting next to me that says, you know, a winner with $1,000 or whatever the number was, and I pulled Chef Bachmann over and said, “Hey, Chef, come here.” You come over, you’re really concerned: “Are you okay?” And I’m like, “Yeah, can you uh, can you take that check and go put it on red on roulette for me?” And you just die. You’re like, “What is wrong with you?” And I’m like, “If you’re not having fun Chef there’s really no point.”
Kirk Bachmann: (laughter) His mind is always elsewhere, always elsewhere. I do remember it, well. That was a heck of a visit, a heck of a trip. To come back to the competition piece. You know, you traveled, I think we sent you to Dubai one time.
Austin Yancey: Oh, yeah.
Kirk Bachmann: I just think it’s a really cool thing to talk about. Because you’re busy. You’ve got a job. You’re thinking about these students, and then you travel 17 hours, and you put yourself on the line again, talk about that competition, specifically.
Austin Yancey: Well, this competition itself is almost unfathomable. You have a 65-hour window that you’re allowed to be in the kitchen. And during that time, a buffet for pastry, and a buffet for culinary. Each buffet had 25 items, each item had to be like 40 portions or something plus sugar sculpture, a chocolate sculpture, a bread sculpture and ice sculpture. And every part of this experience for me will go down forever. I’ll never forget it from the first conversation we had, where you called me into the office, and this is the president, “Hey, you need to come to the office.” I’m like, “Oh, boy, that’s either really good or not good at all.” And you never know what it’s going to be.
Kirk Bachmann: (laughter) And Ed was with us. Right?
Austin Yancey: And Chef, the three of you are sitting there across from me. And I’m like, oh, boy, this could probably be good, because Ed’s here. Otherwise, this is not good. And very briefly said “We’re going to go to Dubai. Team USA is busy getting ready for Germany. We got to put a team together for the US and we’d like you to be on it.” That’s it. That was the sentence and I’m just sitting in silence. And you said, “This is where you say yes, Austin?” I’m like, “Yes, chef. Oui, chef. Of course. Yes.” (laughter) Of course. Yes. I would wash dishes and because I was going through the CMC training at the time, Chef Leonard said, “Oh, no, you’re not gonna wash dishes. You’re gonna cook every single hot item we have. Get ready.” Like oh boy. Here we go. Dream opportunity, right? There’s four other mastery… Two pastry chefs are both sitting for the Certified Master Pastry Chef exam. And me, nobody.
Kirk Bachmann: It’s surreal to some degree, right.
Austin Yancey: Unbelievable. Nine-day trip to Dubai, fully funded at the Royal Palace.
Kirk Bachmann: Somehow I think I covered your shifts. I’m not sure. So all that said, Austin. My father, as you know, Certified Master Baker, by German standards, but he used to always say, “Just try to be a cook for life. Just try to be a cook for life. If you spend most of your time trying to be a great chef, let other people call you a chef. But just try to be a good, great cook for life.” Period. Humble. So what do you think makes a great cook? Or chef or however you want to phrase it. But what is it?
Austin Yancey: Well, the first thing you have to understand is cheap. Check your ego at the door because nobody cares. It’s not about you, right? It’s about learning something that you can never know everything about. Ever. You’ll never be the best at cooking anything, because that doesn’t even make any sense. The best at doing what, cooking chicken? You’re going to be the best chicken cook? I don’t I don’t think so. Because that is just an idea. So if you can think about food on a chemical level, think about chemistry, think about physiology, think about what’s happening in the pan at any given time. And just like you’re in Colorado, and I’m in Chicago, the piece of chicken here is going to cook differently than it is there.
Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely.
Austin Yancey: Everything about the stove, the fridge, the temperature, the elevation, the barometric pressure, the weather, everything going on affects what’s happening chemically in front of you. It can never be the best because it’s always going to be different. So don’t worry about being the best. Just do your best.
Kirk Bachmann: Do your best. Yeah, I could remember the day… I don’t remember what year it was. My father and I were running our restaurant back then. I remember I had just become certified at the first level, I think it was certified working chef is what it was back then. I remember it came in the mail, a big certificate and all of that. So I was always on my side of the line and my dad was on the other, the pastry side. Never shelled it to me. It’s like, “You stay over there. I’ll stay over here.” I remember bringing it over to show my dad and he’s certainly proud, didn’t really say a whole lot, then. Maybe it was the next day or later that day kind of pulls me over and he said, “Looks like you’re on your way.” Looks like you’re on your way. You got the certificate, right? So, you did some things to get that. But it was the best advice I ever got. It looks like you’re on your way. So it’s sort of mirrors what you’re saying. We’ll never know it all. There’s no way. You don’t want to.
Austin Yancey: You just move too fast.
Kirk Bachmann: You want to keep learning, you want to keep learning. So let’s talk about learning. Let’s talk about your company, which is really cool. So I’ll just give you the floor first – Elite Personal Chefs, what is it?
Austin Yancey: So we are, on a very high level, a technology platform that is providing long-term value and retirement solutions for the hospitality industry. And you say, what does that mean? Well, from a marketing perspective, we’re a culinary and hospitality company. We have chefs and sommeliers and servers, etc., who want to be independent contractors, not necessarily working for a company, working for themselves. And we unlock their entrepreneurial spirit, show them how to grow a brand or grow themselves with a higher earning potential higher than most restaurants. And ultimately, the social impact is that they own the company. So I took the company before we even got started, gave 51% of it or majority control to all of the chefs who work there to provide a long term value for them to never leave, but also be able to retire one day with legitimate money in the bank because they’re an equity shareholder or an owner of a large hospitality company.
Kirk Bachmann: So you’ve created a marketplace, you’ve created a network, and it’s coast to coast.
Austin Yancey: Yes, sir. We’re the only marketplace that’s owned by the people who do the work. So imagine that Uber was owned by the drivers, or that Angie’s List was owned by the construction workers and the plumbers and etc., that are on it. We’re doing the same thing in culinary.
Kirk Bachmann: Sure, sure. 2010-11, what sparked the idea?
Austin Yancey: So in 2011, I took a couple of thousand dollars out of my checking account and registered a business in Illinois, registered an LLC. I knew that I could do some things on the side, maybe do some catering, cooking in people’s homes, etc. and it grew and grew and grew. And in that moment, you start to realize, okay, I need to grow this business, I need to work to bring in customers. And this is what started the marketplace for me. Marketplace being B2C, business to consumer or client or customer, whatever you want to name that, ‘C’, I being in the business. They exist, there’s thumbtack, there’s Gigmasters, there’s Yelp, Craigslist, etc. You usually pay a commission to these companies to find those customers. And you do that to grow your customer base. But ultimately, what my thesis is, is that that marketplace ultimately leads to the business or the chef, just ripping the customer right off of the platform. Why would I want to pay that percentage when now Chef Kirk can just call me all the time. He knows me directly, now. He doesn’t need to go to the marketplace for me, because, I as the business, have no loyalty to that marketplace. So you see this happening. There are 50,000 private chefs pre-COVID in the US alone, millions worldwide that are doing that exact same thing. So we wanted to solve that. We wanted to give them a reason to never jump off platforms and never steal the clients. Why? How can you do that? You give them the company, you make them an owner. So you don’t pay a commission in our company, you actually buy a piece of the company, as a micro investor, every time that you do a job.
Kirk Bachmann: And the difference in your words between a personal chef and a private chef?
Austin Yancey: Nothing, the same. So a private chef is someone who is hired to work in a home or for a company or whatever it might be as an independent contractor. You could consider a personal chef would be working for a family or whatnot. But the idea is that we’re trained chefs who can cook, and we’re hospitality professionals. First, we take care of our clients. So really, we can do anything anywhere. And what I try to do is help someone who maybe has never done it before, has always wanted to try it or whatever it may be, understand how to get started with a business, build their client portfolio, grow their revenue, and ultimately, they wind up with an ownership stake in the company that they’ve been a part of this whole time. So as it grows with scale, the value of the company grows, therefore, their percentage of ownership is more valuable. So that one day we either take it public, sell it, create a pension fund, whatever it may be.
Kirk Bachmann: A great alternative. Another path, another journey for someone who’s passionate about cooking.
Austin Yancey: Absolutely, the earning potential is pretty high for a chef.
Kirk Bachmann: Which you want it to be.
Austin Yancey: Exactly. What do people need to live? They need air, water, shelter, and food. Okay, we do food. We do one of the four things that people need to…
Kirk Bachmann: …to survive, right? So you’re the marketing guy too clearly (laughter). I like it. So some thoughts on the state of our industry post-pandemic? What’s going on in Chicago? Colorado is exploding right now. Everyone’s open and looking for help.
Austin Yancey: Now, though, the biggest challenge is the looking for help piece, right? I’m gonna side with the chefs on this one. Too long have we been overworked, underpaid, underappreciated, we don’t get to cook our food and show off ourselves because we’re working under someone. And we don’t own the restaurant. So really, you’re working an absurd amount of hours, capped at a salary to make somebody else money. And I think that day is coming to an end, or at least it’s transitioning because everybody through COVID started a side hustle of some kind. And a lot of the people who cooked in restaurants are just cooking on the side, or they have multiple hobbies, that they’re now monetizing. Maybe they do things like hair or makeup or tattoos or landscaping or they’re a plumber or a real estate agent, whatever little side hustle, they came up with, for necessity is now available for them as technology grows as marketplaces continue to grow. That’s why we want to ultimately expand beyond culinary into all industries and have that over, you know, an all-encompassing marketplace owned by the people who do the work.
Kirk Bachmann: We’re seeing an explosion people want to go out. They’re tired of being sequestered for as long as we’ve been sequestered and, and I definitely believe that the opportunity is there for our industry. The benefits will be better going forward for those working in the industry. And the experiences are amazing for those going and what you’ve created here is just another option for folks to explore our industry. During the pandemic. Did you see an increase that it did you find a lot of people that just wanted an experience and as long as they were following protocols?
Austin Yancey: Exactly. It’s exactly what we did. And like I said, we follow the exact protocols that we were supposed to but people want to be together. I don’t want to be pinned up in a home.
Kirk Bachmann: There’s no doubt. Well, I’m very, very proud of you Austin, and congratulations on that success. What’s next for Austin? What’s next? Can you give us a little peek?
Austin Yancey: Well, coming up next month is going to be absolutely huge for us. We have the opportunity to essentially place an all-inclusive resort on top of a luxury apartment building. So if you can imagine going to an all-inclusive or being on a cruise ship put that on an apartment building where you can just come upstairs and eat. We have live chefs cooking right there. Our technology allows multiple storefronts so Chef Kirk can be a pasta shop, Chef Austin can be a ramen shop, and Chef Alyssa can be a French bistro at any time of day, and the customer, the client lives there. No delivery, no delivery fees, no food dying in the windows and sitting in a box steaming out, they pick what time they want to come upstairs and eat and can combine menu items. That launches in August at our first pilot, at our first building, which is very exciting. And from there, we want…
Kirk Bachmann: …In Chicago?
Austin Yancey: In Chicago. That particular company has eight buildings they want us in ultimately, and I have several companies with big names in the industry who want financial updates and reports because we could take 5-6-7-8 chefs potentially, and they can work basically at an all-inclusive with hundreds of residents who live there at their fingertips, create those personal relationships, and work for them privately in any manner. So this is a way to physically create a marketplace, on top of the tech marketplace that we’ve already been working on, and solve the both customer and chef situation. And remember, we provide value for the chef. That’s what we care about. We care about our chef first, our chefs take care of our customers, therefore our business takes care of itself.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I love it. Like I said very, very proud of you. As we wrap up here. I always like to ask, and no pressure. Chef Austin, what is the ultimate dish?
Austin Yancey: The ultimate dish is the thirst for knowledge. It is the passion of “I really love to do this thing. I want to be successful at it. What is that path?” And I think companies like our companies, like Escoffier, a school of culinary arts, help these people who want to unlock that passion and monetize it for themselves. Because they bring with them that thirst for knowledge. And we’re just simply a tool to help people be successful. So I always have believed in education, that the thirst for knowledge, the human brain, the human spirit, anybody can be successful at anything they want to do. We want to provide the tools to help them do that.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I love it. Really, really good response. I was thinking you’re gonna go into a braised item, but I loved the response. You are the marketer, you are the marketer. Hey, come back and see us again, okay?
Austin Yancey: Okay, sounds good. Chef. I really appreciate being here.
Kirk Bachmann: Loved seeing you. Best wishes for the company and the family and stay healthy, kay?
Austin Yancey: Okay, thank you. Thank you for all the mentorship and everything you’ve ever done for me.
Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely, Chef. Thank you for listening to The Ultimate Dish podcast brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit us at escoffier.edu/podcast, where you’ll find any of our materials mentioned during the podcast including notes, links, and other resources. You can also browse other episodes and subscribe.