Like so many others, most current Made In employees have spent time working in the food + beverage industry. Combined, our employees have worked pretty much every job in the industry, from dishwasher (Jake) to prep cook (George) and beyond. In My Time on the Line, we'll be profiling Made In employees with ties to the food + beverage industry. This edition focuses on Made In Partnership & Hospitality Lead Jenna Seco.
We are proud to support our partners in the food + beverage industry through the Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund, and we want to share with you firsthand why this is a cause close to our hearts.
1. How and when did your love for food begin, Jenna?
As far back as I can remember, I was always surrounded by great cooks. My mom has been a baker since before I was born, so I learned how to bake from watching her and helping whenever I could. She would do desserts for private parties, events, family gatherings, and holidays, and I would take any opportunity I had to help her. I knew once I was able to, I wanted to work in a kitchen.
2. What was your first job in the food + beverage industry and what did that experience mean to you?
My first “real” job in the food + beverage industry was when I was 16. I helped open a casual dining concept and worked on the line. It was a really great experience to be part of an opening team and see what it takes to build something from scratch. In this role, I learned a lot about time management. Orders would come in, and if they weren’t out in 7 minutes, the screen would turn red and that was such an awful feeling. I also learned about food waste, opening and closing a restaurant, and taking the lead.
3. Tell us about the experience of going to culinary school.
Attending the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I actually turned down a large scholarship to continue my education at Penn State and then ultimately ended up going to the CIA later on. Even though I may not be in a kitchen anymore, I still utilize so much of what I learned on a daily basis. Mise en place is something that I’ve carried into my daily life, in and out of the kitchen.
4. What are all the ways in which you’ve been involved in the food + beverage industry?
The great thing about the food + beverage industry is that there are so many different fields and opportunities. If you had told me that all of my experiences would have led me to Made In, I would not have believed you, but I’m so happy they did.
Before I worked as a line cook for that casual dining concept, I was a pastry assistant and worked at a small bakery. I have also worked as a culinary lead at an after care program at which I taught children ages K-4 about food knowledge and how to cook.
I was a lead cook at Google as well. While there, I went around to a handful of different cafes and gained experience in Indian cuisine, barbecue and smoking, high volume (2,500+ covers per service), food trucks, and healthy cooking. I was also a teaching kitchen associate at Google, through which I taught Googlers how to cook. We would teach classes on truffles, Thanksgiving meals, basic cooking techniques, knife skills, etc.
While at Google, my chef and mentor encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone. Every day, he would give me something new to work on. If it wasn’t ready before lunch, we wouldn’t serve it. Because of him, I gained a lot of confidence in my skills. I fell in love with making bread and implemented an in-house bread program that provided fresh bread for every meal. Any time I expressed interest in something, he would challenge me to make it.
While attending the CIA, I had the opportunity to work alongside chefs to prepare for and execute major events at CIA including Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives, Worlds of Flavor, and more. I had the opportunity to work in the dining halls after classes, participate in culinary competitions, cater events at wineries, and assist with private culinary bootcamp classes. One of your final classes while at the CIA is running a restaurant for 12 weeks. You spend 6 weeks back of house, 6 weeks front of house.
5. Did your involvement in the food + beverage industry change you as a person? If so, how?
100%. I learned so many different life skills, met incredible people, and have the utmost respect for those in the food + beverage industry. I’m more organized because of it, I have better time management, and I learned a lot about myself. I think everyone should work at least one day in the hospitality industry.
6. Can you speak to what the work being done by Southern Smoke’s Emergency Relief Fund means to you given your connection to the food + beverage industry?
Especially given everything that’s going on right now, I know so many people in the food and beverage industry who are displaced, furloughed, and worried about what’s going to happen next. The fact that the Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund exists to help out restaurant and bar workers in times of crisis is amazing. The food + beverage industry is all about taking care of others, and it’s so wonderful to see the favor being returned. I feel so fortunate to work for a company that believes in that and is raising funds to help those currently in need.
The food and beverage industry is so much more than eating and drinking. It’s about going out to celebrate a milestone, enjoying a meal and feeling a sense of nostalgia, trying something for the first time, watching someone perfect their craft and share it with you, and enjoying the company of others. There’s a reason food brings people together, and without the food + beverage industry, we’d be lost. Thank you Chris Shepherd, Made In, and everyone who has supported this fund.
You can help support food + beverage industry workers right now with Made In's Southern Smoke Collection. All proceeds from Universal Lid sales and 15% of Knife Collection sales will be donated to the Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund, which provides funding for service industry workers in need.
Restaurants and bars have always been there for us, and it’s time to return the favor.