Lockdown Economy Nederland in a Storytelling and Management Agency for Chefs with Jorane Cuppen

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Tapasya Das

Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.

In this interview, we meet Jorane Cuppen, a founder of the chef’s management agency Guts to Glory and one of the MenuMe Guide Foodie Angels in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. ‘The hungriest woman’ as she calls herself on social media, Jorane shares very personal insights on working with chefs during the pandemic navigating together changes in their role and their business. As the regular restaurant schedules are being shuttered by curfews and lockdowns, Jorane finds her main purpose in helping chefs with emotional and physical adaptation to the new ways of working. She sees her role to be there for them in ‘good time and bad times’ and she is convinced that by caring for each other, keeping perspective and looking for new initiatives, the restaurant industry will be able to surmount the current challenges.

Tell me about your business. So what is “Guts to Glory” all about?

Jorane: During the time I did internships and work for PR companies in The Netherlands, I actually came across the fact that the world of chefs is really changing a lot. Instead of being in the basement of the kitchen or the restaurant, I could see that kitchen was now located in the middle of the restaurant like some sort of fishbowl. Now everybody wants to see the chef, talk to the chef. I noticed that the role of the chef was changing but the chef himself was not changing. With different lives, different requests will come up. Like requests for TV shows, interviews and all that sorts will come up. Nobody was really helping the chef. So that’s why I started “Guts to Glory” to really help the chef tell his story and really manage his career to stay the same.

How long have you been in this line of work?

Jorane: I think since 2018. Not since that long, I have to say. I knew that there was a crisis coming. But I didn’t know that it was this kind of a crisis. I have been in the world of PR marketing for quite a time and I have been working with chefs for a really long time. So this was sort of a logical step and it was launched in 2018.

So this restaurant interview series that we are conducting now is also in collaboration with the MenuMe restaurant Guide. So tell us about your collaboration with them.

Jorane: They have some people who are reviewing restaurants for them. So I am one of the “Food Angels” as they call them. Next to that, I am also with Joel Broekaert, who writes for the NRC newspaper, Netherlands. We tend to go out and eat a lot. I have to say, this year is totally different for me than usual. Normally I spend two nights per year at home, eating and I spend the rest in restaurants. So this year has been the complete 180 degrees opposite.

So maybe let’s capture some of these differences of this year. So what are the ways that this year is very different from any other year? So what has this lockdown and pandemic brought into your life?

Jorane: Well! Where do I begin? It has been such a different year. I mean especially the eating out at night and meeting new people part. Seeing what’s going on and what the level is in the city, in terms of gastronomy, is really weird. And well, nothing is happening at the moment. Of course, there is take out and take away. But it’s sort of an “in-between” period. I still can feel that even though we are in this for almost a year at the moment. So that is really different and the real contact with people is different. Everybody is also really focused on themselves instead of on other people, I have to say. For restaurants, it’s just a bit strange for me. Normally, I start a process with a restaurant or with a chef and it runs for several months. They pay me for the job that I do. Now it feels really weird to actually ask for money from the restaurant world because you know that they are not making that much money as well. So it’s really, searching for other opportunities and other ways to work with each other and to support each other. Because the way that we did things is not going to happen or it’s not going to work for now.

That’s a very interesting link, I think, to the next question. Since you started talking about finding new ways of running your business of working with restaurants. So what are the strategies that you pursue within your business to stay relevant and to stay in the game? So what are your lockdown strategies for the time being?

Jorane: First, I sort of took a break for myself when the first lockdown was happening. I worked 60–70 hours a week. So I took some time off. It wasn’t really an off but it was just to lower the number of hours I worked, I needed it. It wasn’t that difficult of course because a lot of things got cancelled. A lot of the events that we are normally doing were not going to happen. So that’s the first thing that I did. Then my strategy was to really show that you are not only there in the good times but also in bad times. Because it’s going to be a bad time for everybody. This is really the time when you can make a difference as a partner. I mean, people need to feel that you are a partner as well in these difficult times. And so for me, to really stay connected and stay in touch was the main focus. It is still my main strategy just to check in with everybody and really to know what is going on or see where I can help, develop or support people with what they are doing at the moment, and to briefly switch and communicate at high speed. Because that is something they need at the moment in restaurants, given that everything is changing so fast. So focussing on communication was the main strategy. Also, in terms of my business model, I had to switch as well. It also doesn’t feel right to ask for money from restaurants at this moment. I am really keen on supporting my locals. So that is what I am mainly doing right now. But, to really search for other business models and to see how you can actually create a win-win situation, instead of holding on to the thing that you are used to.

Right! In working with restaurants have you noticed whether their requests, their problems or the problems that they come to you with have changed? If we were to think from their perspective right now, what is it that restaurants are struggling with from your point of view or from what you have seen?

Jorane: Well, they are really struggling with re-inventing yourself in such a limited time frame. That’s what I see. I mean everybody has switched to take out and take away food. But it’s not just that I will take the food that I normally make in some small tray and I will send it out for the customer to take with them. That’s just not how things work to say. And you see some restaurants that are really doing this themselves already. They have really re-invented themselves and they have made sure that they have a different concept or they change their own concept in some sort of takeaway style, where you can still feel the brand of the concept or the brand of the restaurant. Others really do need help with that. I think that is something that is underestimated and that is something a lot of entrepreneurs and restaurants came across at least at a later stage. Because you have to come across it sometimes.

Do you find yourself sometimes in situations, where you might need to educate restaurants or the chefs, as to how they could deal with the pandemic? Basically what I am asking is, do they have the right skills to manage what is happening? Or do you sometimes need to take them by the hand and allow them to embrace the new reality and to only fight it emotionally?

Jorane: Well, I think, it is a different game for chefs than for restaurants. I think the restaurants really have the advantage of being able to switch so swiftly and being able to adapt so quickly. Because that is what is needed in this pandemic. That is really something, gastronomy has always been doing and is able to do. But, not seeing guests or doing something completely different is mentally a burden, even though it is a fast swift. It is something that affects you mentally. I mean when we had the restaurants open until 10 pm, for example, that was the time when the rush hour was ongoing and the chef was completely loaded with work. There used to be an enormous amount of energy. But then at 9:30 in the night, everything just collapsed. Because by 10 everyone has to get out. But the chef is still in that mood, he still has that energy and they sort of fall in a black hole. It’s so different from what they are used to and even though they know it, their minds and their bodies are not yet prepared to undergo these changes. So, that’s really where I come in.

Yeah, psychologically and bodily, how do you help them then, to manage this transformation? Could you give an example of something a bit more specific?

Jorane: Well just really make sure that you are there! So in terms of the strategy, I chose to really make sure that they have that time. You know at 9:30 pm or 10 pm, chefs are going to call you because they have no idea of what to do. They still have some emotions that they want to get out. So really, making sure you are available and to call and to connect with them at the moment, is required because that is really an important moment for them. That is not something a lot of people think about. Chefs for example are really people that attach a lot of value to the consistent routine they are going through. So their whole day is changed right now. That is something to take into account. So really, to bother to listen to what they have to say, to just to go through the day with them and to go through the emotions that they are feeling is important. Because if they are not expressing it, it’s only going to build up.

It’s a very big task to support chefs emotionally first of all, in helping them to carry their jobs. So if you think from your professional perspective, as an entrepreneur, who is conducting these activities for chefs, what is it that you need as a business and maybe as an individual? What do you need to perform this role successfully? What are your wishes may be, that you would have liked to have available & accessible to you to perform well?

Jorane: Well, I do need to have a lot of patience. I think that is the main thing. I mean for other people I can bring up the patience luckily but I think some perspective would really help. I think that’s the main struggle for everyone right now. Because it’s not really looking that it’s going to end very soon. Even with the vaccines we just don’t know how this is going to go. In Amsterdam, the lockdown just got extended for a couple of weeks. So every time we heard it, we needed to reinvent ourselves and take the time to process the fact that we are still going to be in this for a couple of weeks. But, that is especially hard because you don’t have the perspective of when it’s actually going to happen and when restaurants can open again or when people can go out to eat again. So I think perspective is the main thing that we or I would like to have is perspective. That is something that I can use as well to motivate the chefs or talk to restaurants with, in order to plan, to think ahead and see what we can do with the new opportunities that arise. So I think that is something. For me, I want to stay in the gastronomy world. But it’s really finding initiatives or new clients (but I won’t really say clients, because I’ll stick with my old ones). But there is so much going on in terms of product development, for example, which is really important for chefs as well. So really looking into that and finding new initiatives there, in order to put my focus on it and give myself energy as well. That would be something I need as well, to be able to develop my chefs in that sense.

That is very interesting. Who do you think will be able to help you develop this perspective or gain these insights in this new initiative. Could other sectors give you insights? Would policymakers be helpful at all? Or would the local government or business support networks be helpful? So where could you get this help from, in your point of view?

Jorane: I think it’s quite hard. In terms of product development, I think, there are products that you use in the kitchen or products that are around gastronomy in a sense. I don’t want to drift too far away from what I am actually doing and that what gives me a lot of energy. I think that is actually quite hard. A lot of these new initiatives come via friends or via the contacts that you’ve built and via your network. And then, I find myself, for example, on some random Monday morning visiting a milk factory that produces and bottles milk per cow, instead of putting everything in a big tank and sending it away for the larger milk factories. So it feels really random sometimes but connecting that to hospitality is actually pretty fun to do right now. Because normally we wouldn’t have time to do this. But that really comes to the network. Hopefully, for some sectors for example, like the food sector, or even that of the farmers, it would be necessary to find more opportunities. It would be really great to try and connect.

So, connecting to a wider audience, looking for properties, that’s all very interesting.

Jorane: I am really thinking about the products of the people that are in your sector and see how they can broaden their horizon. I think that’s something we really need right now.

Right, that is very interesting. Jorane, one of my last questions perhaps is, related to the future and the coming months. In the coming three to six months, what is your foresight? What are you planning and what are you thinking about? What is your outlook for the coming months?

Jorane: I find it really hard to answer that. Because at this moment there is no perspective for me as well. So, keeping others motivated, while keeping yourself motivated without any perspective is quite hard. I hope that the chefs will be mentally as strong at the end of the pandemic as we started. We do have to do this together. I hope that is going to happen. To be prepared for the moment when we would go out again, the restaurant would open again, is really important. We have to look beyond that as well. So I hope that when we have some sort of a date that we know to be final so that we can build up the motivation and really just start again. That would feel great I think. I think that would make a major difference as well for the people I am working with and the industry in general. So I hope we also get the perspective to look six months ahead instead of only a couple of weeks of what we are doing right now.

I hope there will be a good and positive perspective. I think all the industries are longing for that. Thank you so much for sharing your insights and for being with us today.

About the Guest

Practically growing up in a kitchen, Jorane experienced the preparation of food and care for ingredients very closely. She started in Hospitality when she was 14, working with various professional chefs, where she’d always find that important connection. Following a hospitality mindset, she graduated from Hotelschool The Hague. With experience in PR and Marketing, she is determined to tell the stories that otherwise would be left untold, evolving around F&B. With a massive appetite for challenges, new projects, inspiring people and — of course — food, she aims to connect and develop individuals, concepts and strategies in the international world of gastronomy. “Guts to Glory is a storytelling and management agency for chefs, hospitality professionals and companies within the hospitality industry. We are working around the clock to communicate the right story to the right people at the right moment. Because every story is different, it is of great necessity to develop a personalized strategy. Every story is different and so is yours. We create, write, pitch, organise, manage, advise, talk, train, inspire, market, eat and drink within the hospitality industry. With a passion for thinking outside the box, we are always hungry for more. The right message, the right plan and the right target.

https://www.gutstoglory.nl

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.