If you write about food, there's a good chance you'll interview your share of chefs, restaurant owners, CEOs, bartenders, and marketing reps.
After interviewing hundreds of chefs over the past decade, I've adapted some of the best ways to approach each new interview, and what to keep in mind if I want the conversation to be interesting and productive.
1. Most chefs are not comfortable with interviews.
For the most part, unless you're interviewing a celebrity chef, the average chef has not participated in a lot of interviews. So remember this when preparing your questions. You may need to nudge a chef along in order to bring them out of their shell.
Ask them about popular menu items, the inspiration behind their favorite recipes, and why they chose specific ingredients for a trending dish. "I love when a journalist asks what I'm doing with a specific recipe and wants to know why I'm doing it that way," says Christian Darcoli, director of culinary for Servino Ristorante in Tiburon, California. "Most of the time, journalists do not take the time to dig deeper into a dish and truly understand why it might be presented differently, or incorporate different ingredients."
Chef Sonia El-Nawal says she enjoys talking with a journalist about her connection with food and how it goes past just flavor. "Food is such a powerful thing that unites us all and touches us differently," says the owner of New York-based catering company Lapin Plus. "Food is cultural, emotional, and incredibly powerful."
2. Chefs can share unique knowledge and insights.
It may be your first instinct to interview the owner of a restaurant and stop there. But many times, it's the chef who knows how many meals go out per day, which dishes are most popular, and what ingredients are "trending." Don't miss the opportunity to ask a chef their opinion. Chefs, unlike most operators, CEOs and marketing managers, also have a deep knowledge and understanding of food. So, these are the experts you want to talk to when you have burning food questions. The best part is, they love to share what they know with those who are genuinely interested.
El-Nawal believes that one of the most important topics in the culinary industry right now may be the way food has changed over the past 30 years. "I feel that it needs to go back to what it was like in the 80’s, a much simpler time in cooking when ingredients were sourced locally and there wasn’t this constant strive for perfection," El-Nawal says. "It's important because restaurants are losing the connection between chefs and customers by hyper focusing on every little detail."
Another important topic on chefs' minds right now, in the age of the pandemic, is teamwork, according to Darcoli. "The environment for our team has drastically changed, and it's more important than ever that teams in the kitchen are coming together, practicing empathy, and working synchronously," he says.
3. Chefs are more than their titles.
The majority of chefs are givers by nature. They feed other people for a living, after all. Delve a bit deeper and you'll find that they are often involved in all sorts of extracurricular activities outside of the kitchen. Many donate their time to charities, own small businesses, teach cooking classes, and more. Ask them if they have any other projects going on, and you may leave the conversation with three more stories in the making.