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Eater Young Guns Semifinalists Talk Industry Challenges

On coming to New York, ageism, and begging to stage.

Holdfast, Portland
Holdfast, Portland
Dina Avila

Earlier this month, Eater announced the 50 Young Guns semifinalists, a group of promising up-and-comers selected from hundreds of nominees. We surveyed each and every one of them, asking about their experiences, the challenges they've faced, and what they hope to accomplish in the future. We're publishing a selection of their answers over the next month, and the winners will be announced on June 8.

This week, Eater asked the semifinalists to share the biggest challenges they've faced in their careers. What did they overcome to get where they are today? What do they struggle with on a daily basis?

Raising the capital to fund my first store. At 24 with relatively zero experience, it was a helluva uphill battle. Took me about 6 months but I finally did it.
— Hunter Pond, founder & CEO, East Hampton Sandwich Company, Dallas/Plano/Fort Worth

I would say the biggest challenge has been transitioning from a line cook to a chef position. Getting out of the line cook mentality of only worrying about setting up my station and being aware of everything going on in the restaurant.
— Kevin Law, chef de cuisine, State Bird Provisions, San Francisco

Worrying that the egg crate is going to slip when I'm reaching for something.
— Julia Poplawsky, butcher, Dai Due, Austin

Balancing work and personal life has become increasingly challenging

Balancing work and personal life has become increasingly challenging as I've gotten busier over the years. Especially within the hospitality industry, the lines between personal and professional relationships can get easily blurred (your best friend is also your colleague/boss/employee, or any combination of the like). Making time for myself to engage with the world completely outside of the bar is very important to my sanity.
— Devon Tarby, partner, Proprietors LLC/The Normandie Club/The Walker Inn, Los Angeles/New York

I have repeatedly put myself in strange and new situations. I moved to Oregon for an unpaid internship at age 19 with no clue of where/how to live. Later, I found myself climbing under the half closed metal door of a bistro in Paris to beg for a stage. When I finally did settle down and take jobs for extended periods of time, my biggest challenge was receiving criticism properly and working within a team.
— Daniel Amighi, sous chef at La Brasa/culinary director at Further Food Stuffs, Somerville, MA

Daniel Amighi and Julia Poplawsky.

Constantly staying ahead, as far as knowledge and technique. I feel like I need to always find new ways to do the same things that are more efficient or more effective. I never want to stay in my comfort zone, always trying to learn more and learn different things.
— Dean Hildebrand, formerly at Zahav Restaurant, Philadelphia, now at RN74, San Francisco

One of the hardest things I've ever had overcome was the transition from Texas to New York City. Despite having graduated from some of the best schools in the world for hospitality education and having worked at a Grand Award-winning restaurant as a sommelier for over two years, I fought an uphill battle to secure a sommelier position in NYC. After a month of interviews, meetings and consideration from the beverage director, I was able to prove myself and was finally able to secure my first job as a NYC sommelier at Costata.
— Jack Mason, wine director, Marta, New York

Devon Tarby and Jack Mason. [Mason photo: Alicie Gao]

Opening a new dining concept in downtown San Diego. I was the youngest in the kitchen and was in a leadership position, charged with successfully launching this new restaurant. It was the hardest thing I had ever done.
— Jose "JoJo" Ruiz, chef de cuisine, Ironside Fish and Oyster, San Diego

...I've faced adversity from co-workers, employees, even bosses because of my age and my perceived abilities — as if the two had any type of correlation. With a strong work ethic and a good understanding of the businesses I've been charged with running, this misconception has usually been trashed pretty rapidly by those around me.
— Sebastian Dumonet, director of operations, Joel Robuchon Restaurants, Las Vegas

Surpassing prejudices, and wrong expectations. The challenge to challenge myself every day to be better. Also moving far from home, my family, and friends.
— Mariana Villegas, co-chef de cuisine, Cosme, New York

Starting from zero in different countries, and opening up a restaurant in New York without knowing anyone.
— Daniela Soto-Innes, co-chef de cuisine, Cosme, New York

At 23, it is not easy leading a team that on average is much older than you

The biggest challenge thus far is being an effective manager. At 23, it is not easy leading a team that on average is much older than you. You have to gain their respect, you have to learn to manage through personalities. People skills are important also — how to talk to people, manage people, get the most out of them, night after night. They don't teach you these things in school. Luckily my chef/dad was there to help guide me through this process, a process I am still trying to master.
— Tyler Bienvenu, sous chef, Joe's Stone Crab, Miami Beach

Not putting my daughter to bed every night. Dishwasher schedules.
— Chris Parasiuk, chef, Restaurant Manitoba, Montreal

Well, managing a band of bartenders has been a huge learning experience for me. Getting everyone on board with new ideas and new drink menus has also been a big challenge. ... I have figure a way to persuade our longtime loyal guests that a little change is a good thing. I'm still figuring that last one out.
— Adam Gorski, creative bar lead, La Belle Vie, Minneapolis, Minnesota