At catered events, we usually get to see and interact with servers, bartenders, event planners, and managers. But rarely do we get a chance to meet and talk with the men and women behind the scenes (or more accurately) in the kitchen. The hands that prepare the food we eat often work in silence, perfecting their craft. The occasional “compliments to the chef” is relayed from servers. Sometimes a brave visitor will swing by and express their appreciation. For the most part, the world of food at the hands of the chef goes largely unnoticed.
This post contains an interview with one of Clean Plate Club’s top chefs, Bryn Herrin. The purpose of the interview is here to shed some light on the people who make the amazing things clients eat. Discover how this culinary expert embraced the world of catering, what his day-to-day life is like, and what he gets up to in his spare time.
Name: Bryn Herrin
Position/Title: Executive Sue Chef
Number of Years in the Industry: 23
Favorite Food: Pizza (Specifically Supreme Pizza)
Let the Interview Begin
- Describe your journey up until working for Clean Plate Club. Where did you work before here? What made you want to get into the culinary space?
Since I was young, I always found myself in the kitchen, experimenting with different flavors and textures of food. I started college as a film major, and worked as an intern to produce a small, independent film. While taking classes, I also worked as a dishwasher at Nashville’s gourmet grocer called Corner Market. I fell in love with the chef’s lifestyle—everything from the relentless daily pace to the high energy nightlife—I embraced it. My work in the kitchen was sporadic for a while because I wanted to try my hand at other pursuits. However, I always found myself coming back into the culinary world and decided to make it my life.
Off to culinary school I went. After graduating, I got hired at a fine dining restaurant called Flyte. I did everything behind the stove— line cook, hot pot, grill cook— whatever culinary position that actively fired up food, I held it. The work was demanding, both on my body and mind, and I found myself relying heavily on alcohol to get through the 7-day workweek and into the next one. I knew I had to make a change to keep sustaining what I loved doing, so I quit the hustle and bustle at Flyte and went to Whole Foods where I took people’s requests and cooked food to-order.
Things didn’t go as planned.
Eventually, I got help tackling my addiction at Cumberland Heights. I wanted to give back and started cooking for them. My idea was to combine food and sobriety, and I succeeded at Cumberland. I got so into creating food that made people feel their best, that I started a meal service out of my home called Paleo Works. As most people in small businesses know, it’s hard to sustain trying to get off the ground. I needed something to help sustain me during those times were I couldn’t make ends meet. While searching for somewhere to work part-time, I came across Clean Plate Club and sent them an offer. They gladly took me on, and I worked on and off for CPC for about 8 years until I was hired full-time in September of 2021. I enjoy working for Clean Plate, and I must have done a good job because I was hired as their executive sue chef last year.
- What is your specialty in the kitchen? Do you have a favorite thing you cook?
Mac & Cheese if I had to give just one answer. Really, I try to make whatever they (sales team) tell me to cook. I like to experiment and try new dishes when our sales team gets a request for a new menu. Whatever they come up with, I end up making it a few times, adjusting measurements, and then adding my own little flourish to it. Overall, creating a consistently tasty dish and continuing to nail it every time is what makes a good chef. Especially a good catering chef.
- Is working in the event/catering kitchen different than working for a restaurant? If so, tell me about it.
Absolutely. Both have ebbs and flows, or high and low volume times. They’re just expressed in different ways. When I worked for a restaurant, we’d get minor downtime to prep for the shift ahead. When service started, it was full steam ahead until the restaurant closed. Sometimes, I’d have to repeat that same pattern 5-6 nights straight. While completing all those tasks and knowing you did well, it was mentally and physically exhausting to maintain without more than a single day off during the week. Sometimes, I would be lucky to get one day off every two weeks.
With catering, I get more lead and prep time for an event. I know what’s coming up and when to start preparing for that event so everything is ready day of. Basically, I know when to better expect the “hustle and bustle” and “wait time.” The flip side is that catering work is sporadic. In restaurants, you kinda know what you’re going to get— what each day brings. In catering every week is different. When we’re full blow it’s a lot. We have super busy times and super slow times… But the fun of it is that I’m always getting to do something a little different, be it a new take on an old menu, setting up at a new venue, or working with new staff at an event.
- Are there things you prefer to working as a catering chef vs in a restaurant? If yes, explain. If not, tell me why your job is rewarding.
For me, working as a catering chef is better than working as a restaurant chef in that it’s not as exhausting. You have more of a life outside work as a catering chef. It’s not as hard on you physically, mentally, emotionally. We (chefs) have a little break between jobs, or we might have a couple days to recoup before the next big job.
The biggest reward for me is pulling off a successful job from start to finish. When the food goes out on time, when nothing is forgotten at the kitchen, and when the client’s happy is when I feel the most accomplished. I think it’s because I enjoy logistics and the challenge of figuring out how to run an event for any number of guests.
- If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
I wouldn’t make very many changes. If I have to answer, I would say I’d like to help our kitchen improve to make everything more efficient and economical. Making everything more systematic is my goal.
- What is something that most people don’t know about the work you do?
It’s not easy doing this work. It’s demanding and it goes “quietly underappreciated.”
- If you knew someone who wanted to go into this industry, what is the most important thing you’d tell them?
Don’t just go to culinary school first. Go work. Work in a fast-paced restaurant, high-end kitchen, or some kind of place that’s similar. When you’re there, be quiet and learn. Ask questions, steal knowledge, and take notes. Get comfortable with the fact that you will be doing menial, laborious tasks that aren’t glamorous or sexy— you won’t be on the line immediately… Get comfortable with that. You won’t come out of the gate cooking.
If you can do basic, labor-intensive stuff and do it well, then maybe spend money on school where you can learn under the right chefs. Being a chef is not like how they’re portrayed on a show like Food Network. The job means coming in and doing prep work. It means you continue to chop, ask questions, repeat until your manager decides you’re in a good spot to learn another position and equipment in the kitchen. Experience is invaluable, and experience from those who’ve been at it a while is gold. Walk before you run and you’ll run far. Be consistent and interested in the work you do.
- What do you get up to on your time off?
When I’m not at work, I get my workouts in and watch movies in my downtime. I’m a huge fan of film and will watch just about anything.
- Anything else you want to add that you’d like people interested in being a chef to know?
Don’t believe the hype of Food TV/Celebrity Chefs. Behind every single chef on screen there are 20 people prepping. There’s a difference between “I love to cook” and cooking in a commercial kitchen. They’re different, and you really have to love the lifestyle our work yields, as well as the food you create.
There you have it. The world of food and those who have made it their life off making it good. More interviews and staff highlights to follow. Stay up to date with Clean Plate Club’s happenings via our blog and social media sites. Thanks for reading.