MEET JENNY

A PROFESSIONAL CHEF WHO TURNED DOWN BUSINESS SCHOOL AND 'top chef' TO BE HER TRUE, AUTHENTIC SELF

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ON LETTING GO OF THE "EXPECTED PATH" TO BECOME A TRUER, BETTER VERSION OF HERSELF:

"The biggest transition I’ve had to date was leaving a set, successful path as an MBA candidate at Columbia Business School and moving into a completely unknown territory of culinary arts. It has completely changed my worldview on what is important in my life. Up until then (and on a lesser scale to this day), I was addicted to what others perceived and saw of me: my job titles, my salary, my Ivy League education, awards and accolades. I was a vicious, petty, obsessive person who spent most of my time figuring out what to wear and who I “should” be talking to.

Going back to culinary school and being surrounded by people with completely different backgrounds than me, with very different life aspirations and priorities brought me to the realization that what I had deemed to be the only option was, in fact, a cage, a mirage, a façade, made from millions of stories of unhappy people who lived through their LinkedIn profiles, but not through their real lives. I didn’t want to end up like that. So I decided this was my chance to make the jump. It required a lot of effort to keep going, especially when things were hard - I wasn’t making any money and my peers were quietly laughing at me behind closed doors. But I’m so proud of who I am now and I actively try to encourage and help others who want to become a better version of themselves too."

"...what I had deemed to be the only option was, in fact, a cage, a mirage, a façade, made from millions of stories of unhappy people who lived through their LinkedIn profiles, but not through their real lives."

ON NEVER SETTLING AND PUSHING BOUNDARIES:

"I am still living outside of my comfort zone. At the beginning of this year, I realized I had fallen into a new zone. I left Columbia Business School and struggled for years trying to find my place in the food industry. I cooked at restaurants, interned in PR firms, sold smoothies to venture capital firms, worked as a barista and hostess – all sorts of odd jobs to help me learn. I eventually broke off to start my own consulting business, which I feel fortunate to say has been successful and afforded me a comfortable life.

For about a year now, business has been humming along well and I was even able to hire an additional person. But I realized I hit a plateau and I was bored, placated by the money I was making, but intellectually drying up. So I decided to dive into augmented and virtual reality, a field I literally know nothing about. I came home one day and said, “this is what I’m going to do” and now I just finished my first VR & food project in Nicaragua. Life is about living, and the only way to live is outside of your comfort zone. Living in your comfort zone isn’t living, that’s called settling."

"I REALIZED I HIT A PLATEAU AND I WAS BORED, PLACATED BY THE MONEY I WAS MAKING, BUT INTELLECTUALLY DRYING UP."

 Photo by  Levy Bergman

Photo by Levy Bergman

FROM SEEKING OTHERS' APPROVAL TO DEFINING SUCCESS ON HER OWN TERMS:

"Every single time I cook for people I feel vulnerable. It’s putting my love and heart and talent out there. It’s scary, and it has never ceased to be scary for me. My husband will tell you that I can barely eat before I serve my food because I’m so nervous. It is not so much about whether people will like it or not, it’s more this moment of “wow, this is what I’m meant to do and I’m still doing it.

Cooking is fundamentally a "giving" function, so there's always a part of you that you're offering up when you cook. When I first started, it was about approval - wanting others to like what I made. Now, I realize my cooking is about sharing my ideals and desires for the world, the social change I believe in with others and sometimes not everyone is on board. That's scary, that rejection, even if it's polite or not even explicitly said. So I try my best to focus on the fact that if I am still cooking after a rejection, it means I'm still inching closer to making the change I want in the world.”

"I try my best to focus on the fact that if I am still cooking after a rejection, it means I'm still inching closer to making the change I want in the world."

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ON LEARNING TO FOLLOW HER INSTINCTS AFTER FAILURE:

"Last year I competed on Chopped and was eliminated in the first round. I was so extremely disappointed in myself. I had always put Chopped on a pedestal it didn’t deserve, and when I lost the competition, I realized I had always been a pawn in their game and always will be. TV producers do not care about me, you, or anyone else. They care about ratings. If they can make you trip a little extra or say something awful (but entertaining!), they will do it. I could feel it the whole time I was on Chopped. The show made me feel like my abilities were lackluster, that I was an imposter, that I wasn't worthy of the success I've had, that I was not "good enough". It made me realize all the subliminal signs that indicated this particular show was not a good place for me and that I should have listened to my instincts.

"THE SHOW MADE ME FEEL LIKE MY ABILITIES WERE LACKLUSTER, THAT I WAS AN IMPOSTER, THAT I WASN'T WORTHY OF THE SUCCESS I'VE HAD, THAT I WAS NOT GOOD ENOUGH."

Being a “Chopped Champion” was seductive and alluring and it made me ignore my instincts in search of acceptance and fame. I learned a lot from that experience. For a long time, I kept the whole affair to myself and didn’t tell anyone besides my family and close friends. I was afraid if I shared my loss people would judge me, or perhaps take it as a way to validate the "oh, she's not that special or good at what she does". There's a lot of difficulty enough being taken seriously as a woman in the food industry (or any industry really) and I was scared my elimination would be another spear used against me when I was working hard on other obstacles in the future. But I realized if I were to grow, I needed to face what happened both internally and externally. Internally, I took a hard look at myself and how easily I’d fallen into the trap of pursuing this desire to feel important to others in the food industry. It’s the same place I had started before I became a chef: eager to please for external validation, instead of working for my own validation. This realization eventually helped me turn down the opportunity to be on Top Chef Season 15, another high-profile opportunity that I only wanted for all the wrong reasons. Externally, I decided to open up and share my failure with others.

"INTERNALLY, I TOOK A HARD LOOK AT MYSELF AND HOW EASILY I'D FALLEN INTO THE TRAP OF PURSUING THIS DESIRE TO FEEL IMPORTANT TO OTHERS... EXTERNALLY, I DECIDED TO OPEN UP AND SHARE MY FAILURE WITH OTHERS."

I’m so tired of hearing perfect success stories of perfect people with perfect snippets of their perfect lives on Instagram. I wrote a heartfelt, vulnerable essay about my loss for Girlboss, and I’m really proud to say I had numerous women reach out to me and tell me about a similar situation they are or were going through, and how glad they were to see another brave soul be able to share their shortcomings with the world."

ON HAVING THE COURAGE TO BE VULNERABLE:

"Of course, I struggle with being brave. Being authentic is being vulnerable. Being vulnerable is the bravest thing anyone can do. I roll my eyes at men and women who pretend feelings are beneath them. Bravery is living in the face of vulnerability. At the end of the day, you’ll never win everyone to your side, so the most important thing is to feel you are 100% who you want to be. Now as I’m getting in tune and thinking about the life I really want to live, a big part of that is centered around public service. How am I going to use the talent of culinary art, which I’m fortunate enough to have and make the world a better place? Many may think it’s not the “right” way to make a difference or think my effort would be better spent in some other way, but I think being brave is about making that mark and putting my foot in the ground saying, “this is how I want to go forward with who I am and what I can do.”

"BEING AUTHENTIC IS BEING VULNERABLE. BEING VULNERABLE IS THE BRAVEST THING ANYONE CAN DO. I ROLL MY EYES AT MEN AND WOMEN WHO PRETEND FEELINGS ARE BENEATH THEM. BRAVERY IS LIVING IN THE FACE OF VULNERABILITY."

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF FAILURE:

"I wish I had learned how to embrace failure sooner. It's not failing that defines you, it's what you do after the failure that truly defines you as an individual. Heartbreaking disappointment, bad defeats, and hard nights will mold your character much more than winning ever will. Success is not a straight line. If you never fail, that means you aren't putting yourself in any situations that actually matter."

ON BELIEVING IN YOURSELF AND FINDING THE RIGHT SUPPORT:

"I used to be a competitive fencer and that shaped a lot of who I am today. Truly knowing how to believe in yourself can be far more impactful on your success than raw talent or learned ability. Finding a really good supporter is also extremely important. My fencing coach Marshall was a father figure to me. He’s the incredible individual that took a broken, depressed teenager and made her someone who believed in herself and her sport, and eventually made Top 16 at Summer Nationals. Before him, I grew up in an unsupportive household and trained under a fickle, petty coach that made me feel even more small and pathetic every time I lost a fencing match. I’m so thankful I had fencing in my life to teach me to keep striving and find the right person by your side to do so. Now as I push forward in my culinary career I have my wonderful husband Matt to say, “keep going, anything you put your mind to you can dominate."

"Truly knowing how to believe in yourself can be far more impactful on your success than raw talent or learned ability. "


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Photo by Herb Galang