IMG_7334By Carly DeFilippo

ICE alum and Chef’s Advisory Council member Jason Apfelbaum is far from your average culinary entrepreneur. When he first enrolled, his dream was to own a boutique hotel in a remote location (and, eventually, to become the mayor of that small town). The choice to attend culinary school was a “back up plan”, in case one of his employees didn’t show up to work. But all that changed when a guest speaker in the catering business visited his Culinary Management class. Soon enough, Jason was building his own catering empire, Chef & Co, which, at its peak, was the premier private and corporate fine-dining caterer in New York City.

After more than twenty years as an entrepreneur, Jason recently made the shift to become the Director of Food and Beverage for Morgans Hotel Group. This new challenge is only one in a series of crowning successes in Apfelbaum’s professional ascent, and he’s the first to attest that hard work and determination far outweigh luck in this highly competitive industry.

That was the message that Jason underscored this week, when he spoke to a class of Culinary Management students. Kicking off his presentation, he handed each student a poker chip, and shared the following video: “All In”.

As the Giants’ story demonstrates, it is dogged commitment to and passion for the goal towards which one strives that can secure even the most unlikely success.

Beyond this inspirational message, Apfelbaum explained that his diverse achievements are all based on two professional strategies:

  1. Hire great people. Jason subscribes entirely to the philosophy that “you are only as good as your weakest team member” and that strategic hiring can cultivate a powerful company culture. To demonstrate his point, Jason introduced his most recent hire, kicking off his first day at Morgans Group with Apfelbaum’s motivational presentation. Luckily for this young professional, Jason also professed a strong belief in generous compensation packages, stating that “in the [Food and Beverage] industry, it’s not a question of whether people will steal from you, it’s how much they will steal from you”. When you hire the best people and reward them for their hard work, it’s a winning combination.
  2. Know your weaknesses. As a manager, it’s important to understand what your weaknesses are and to hire the best person you can find to take over those tasks. Give these highly skilled employees two rules: work hard and be happy. With that, let them manage their projects with limited micro-managing, and provide all the tools they need so they have no excuses if they don’t succeed.

In the hour and a half that Jason spoke, there were more outrageous stories and sage advice than I have room to publish. But one repeated message rang true: the connections students make with their professors, peers and alumni network can make or break a career. So if students felt a little bit luckier upon leaving the lecture, it wasn’t due to the poker chip in their pocket, but rather, the copy of Apfelbaum’s business card.

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