Our students of the Global MBA in Food and Wine received the visit of a very special guest: Cristina Bowerman. A Michelin Star Chef that stands out for her passion and achievements in the food industry, plus her unique story.
Cristina Bowerman, the head of the Glass restaurant in Rome since 2006, is the only woman who in 2008 was awarded the two Gambero Rosso forks, in 2010 a Michelin Star and awareded to Identity Greedy in 2013. The talented Chef visited our students from the Food and Wine track of the Global MBA Program to share her experiences and knowledge. Learn more about Cristina Bowerman in the interview below.
Yours is a peculiar story: a Law degree, in 1991 you went to San Francisco to continue your studies. Two months later you started working at a crêperie. You enrolled at the Culinary Art University and you became Menu Production Manager of a company owning 16 top level restaurants. In 2005 you came back to Italy, and in Rome the happy adventure of Glass started. How did you recognize your vocation?
I don’t believe in a single vocation. What I believe in, really, is that we have many skills and different parts of us to be explored. For instance, I started by completely neglecting my entire artistic vein, thinking my sisters and my mother were the artists at home. Then, when I was thirty, I realized I had never explored that part of me. I did it and I discovered I actually had a vocation, so I devoted myself to the arts, then to graphic design and then to cooking, which I believe is a form of expression of creativity. I think, at a certain point in life, we should all stop and try to understand what are the things we are better at and those we are bad at, and try to do new ones, I mean, explore. There’s always something we like doing, the difficulty lies in looking for and finding it.
Gambero Rosso wrote that Glass Hostaria is the most New York-inspired place in Rome. How important was your American experience?
It was fundamental. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the personal and professional training I received in the States: it’s a country that teaches you an across-the-board approach, completely different from the Italian one. Probably, if I had stayed in Italy, I would have never started this career, and perhaps I would have never got where I am. As I always say, the American dream is alive and kicking and is good for everyone. In America, I learnt about customer service approach, unheard of in Italy, and I brought it to Glass. I explained to my team that it’s important to have bread for celiacs, dishes for vegetarians and for those who have allergies, we need to understand who are customers are, their habits. My partner has taken this in the right away, he’s absorbed it and so it’s become an integral part of our way of presenting ourselves. In addition, in America I worked for years on the Internet and media exposure, so it was easy for me to know how to move to include the restaurants in the guides. Everyone says I am a very media-based chef. That’s not the case, I’m simply 10 years ahead of others.
You are chef and manager at the same time: besides deciding and supervising the lines of the dishes, you control costs, you deal with the inventory, the orders. Do you think the Italian catering industry lacks the figure of a specialized manager who collaborates with the chef and who only deals with the managerial aspects?
Absolutely. It’s a figure you often find in hotels, but there they mostly deal with accounts and not with the inventory, not to mention finding solutions that could lead to savings. This figure doesn’t exist in the catering industry and it’s a pity. The manager shouldn’t simply manage relationships with suppliers, but also deal with the inventory, look for new products to introduce, act as a sort of filter with the chef. For instance, if the chef needs a new pecorino cheese, the manager should collect information and present all the possible pecorino available. It’s not an easy task, also because often in Italy restaurants are small businesses. Even though things are changing now: we currently employ 45 people at the Romeo restaurant and 20 a Glass.
You said: “I deeply believe in studying and it gave me the chance to demonstrate that I can be a chef like a man”. Do you think there’s still a gender issue as for this particular profession?
No, explicitly, but yes, in a veiled way. The chef is still identified as a man. I stated that I deeply believe in studying because it gives you the possibility to operate on a level playing field. Studying allowed me to have that additional edge, to be always one step ahead, to hit the big time using another channel, which was neither sex appeal nor physical strength. I don’t think there’s a difference between a man or a woman chef. It’s my cultural and educational background, it’s my story that leads me to create a specific dish, femininity has got nothing to do with it.
What would you suggest our students?
My suggestion is to be curious, always. To look at other cultures, to have a global vision, and being thus able to anticipate trends.
Would you like to read more Dialogues with BBS Community lecturers? Please click here.