26 Oct WCW- Jill Houk
As I navigate my way down my own professional path, certain conversations and relationships jump into my head. Three years ago I met Chef Jill Houk. I never thought then I’d ever be entering the consulting ring and now looking at her in a totally new light. As I’ve grown my business, she has been a major networking mentor for me. If I ever need to connect with a specific professional, Jill knows someone who knows someone. She also embodies the principal of attracting opportunity, she networks to connect others and along the way builds connections for herself.
My biggest take away from her over the years? “Never leave money on the Table.”
I’ve scribbled this down a dozen times, long before I knew how it specifically applied to me. Now, sitting down for coffee, I see clearly how she also embodies the professionalism and passion I hope to bring to all of my future consulting clients as I build this aspect of my own business.
Chef Jill Houk is a Culinary Consultant with an extensive background in the food service industry. She is the go to here in Chicago, recruiting staff for many of the high end restaurants we all love to frequent. She also specializes in recipe development, and has published two cookbooks, The Essential Dehydrator and The Complete Soda-Making Book.
A few years back, I was able to do hair and makeup for her before she appeared on local television. Did I also mention she’s a mom and wife!? She is always moving, a true Superwoman!
I am so thankful for Jill’s outlook and perspective for this specific chapter in my career. She has developed her own business in such a similar manner, and although her background is different from my own, as we shared our individual stories those similarities continued to surface.
Meet Jill Houk– Chef, Culinary Consultant, and Cookbook Author
When did you decide you wanted to start your business?
This is my second business. My first was a personal chef and catering company called Centered Chef Food Studios. I envisioned starting that in 2004, and incorporated in August 2005. My current business, Jill Houk Culinary Consulting, is an evolution of Centered Chef. While I owned the catering company, I took on consulting work, such as recipe development, foodstyling, and tradeshow management. In 2010, I sold my half of Centered Chef to focus on these consulting projects, and in January 2010, Jill Houk Culinary Consulting came to fruition.
Who has been your biggest mentor and what have you learned from them?
My biggest mentor is Chef Lisa Gershenson. She was my catering instructor at Kendall College. Before teaching, Lisa founded J&L Catering, one of the largest, most successful caterers in Chicago. Lisa gave me confidence to start a business by telling me that my business style worked well whether my clients were male or female. She also gave fantastic advice on finding commercial kitchen space, and when to move to a larger spot. (Spoiler alert–Stay in a smaller space to the point of discomfort. Never take on a larger fixed expense unless you have to.) On the personal side, Lisa introduced me to the non-profit organizations that I now support. She invited me to become a mentor for Cooking Up Change, a contest put on to benefit the health and wellness of Chicago Public School children. Since her invitation, I’ve been involved for the past eight years, and several of those years, I was either a contest or event chair. This volunteer work also lead me to Purple Asparagus, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching Chicago’s families about food that is good for the body and good for the planet. I have volunteered with Purple Asparagus for six years, and served as a board member for four. Without Lisa’s guidance, I doubt I would have found and supported such vital causes.
What would you consider to be your biggest success?
My client retention rate. It’s rare that I don’t work with a client on several engagements. Some clients have hired me for ten to a dozen years. And my clients recommend me to their colleagues! There is no greater measure of success.
Where would you like to see your business go in the next year?
I’d like to add three food brands to my client base. Right now, I have several clients who own restaurants, which has tipped my balance from half restaurant work and half food brand work to mostly restaurant work. I like having a 50/50 split. It keeps things interesting, and each side of the business benefits the other, in that I can migrate ideas from one side to the other.
Why should someone hire you?
I listen and get to know my clients, their successes, their pain points, and their dreams. Then I get to work. As a consultant, there usually isn’t a blanket solution for multiple clients, so that means I’ve got to understand my clients really well and propose solutions that will work specifically for them. Sometimes I challenge my clients with options they had never considered, but I always feel confident with my suggestions because I’ve taken the time to get to know them and the unique aspects of their business.
And just for fun, what’s the one beauty product you can’t live without?
Lip balm. I keep tubes of lip balm in my purse, car, and every room of my house. My favorite is Burt’s Bees Coconut Lime. It’s like a little vacation for my smile.
As Jill mentioned, she is active with Cooking Up Change. Next month this amazing nonprofit, which supports schools in making a healthier environment for children to learn in, will be celebrating 10 years! Join them on November 17th at the Bridgeport Art Center for a culinary competition and party! Tickets are available here.
Jill, thank you so very much for sitting down with me. As an entrepreneur, I am so inspired by your journey and am truly grateful to have the opportunity to continue to learn from you. And I can not wait to try (and share) some of your recipes! If you’re looking for an amazing gift for any of the home cooks in your life, buy Jill’s cookbooks here!
All photography provided by Angela Garbot Photography.