Sean Brock has created a field guide for restaurant workers, called ‘How to Thrive and Not Just Survive’. It distils everything he learned from the experience of creating his new restaurant, Audrey, and how it can be applied within the industry to create a healthier, happier workplace.
In a talk for the Basque Culinary Centre’s series ‘Cambia Mientras Puedas’ (Change While You Can), moderated by Fine Dining Lovers’ editor-in-chief Ryan King, Brock explained his journey, and how it informed his thinking on his new restaurant, on a new way of working, and on how everyone in the industry can benefit.
Brock needs no introduction. Synonymous with southern cuisine and its foodways, he is known for his holistic approach to the restaurant industry, and for leading the charge to a new business model that puts the chef’s wellbeing at the centre of everything.
Brock famously turned his back on a restaurant empire he had built from scratch in order to take a journey within himself. It led him to understand how the restaurant industry had pushed him to breaking point, both physically and mentally. What he learned was that he had to walk away from the industry, something he had never contemplated before. He resolved to build a restaurant that allowed its staff to be happy and healthy first, before looking after its guests.
That was some years ago, and today his plan has been realised with Audrey, his new restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee. The 10,000 square-foot building houses two restaurants – downstairs, a simple casual concept with a focus on minimalism and ingredient obsession, and upstairs a tasting-menu-only restaurant focusing on the possibilities of southern cuisine. There is a research and development lab to explore the boundaries deliciousness, and a learning centre with a library of Brock’s books, plus a space to bring experts in for talks and workshops. There is also a plethora of alternative therapies accessible to staff who want them.
“I need that kind of discipline. I know people in the restaurant industry love these kind of guidelines and disciplines in pace that give us structure because we all stay so, so busy. For me it’s a roadmap to my journey and it allows me to know each day that when I go to bed I know that I was open and honest and that I was doing my best." Sean Brock
Brock's field guide, How to Thrive Not Just Survive, offers a reference guide for staff of his Audrey restaurant in easy-to-follow steps. There is a lot to learn from Brock, particularly right now, as restaurant workers prepare to return to a different reality.
The idea of community and our innate desire to belong is central to Brock’s thinking. The idea of ‘bandwidth’ is a theme that runs through his structural approach to serving, a ‘community diamond’ that teaches us to look after ourselves first, before attending to those closest to us, and expanding our circle of competence outwards to eventually reach the customer.
Conflict is another theme within his work: how to avoid it, how to embrace it, and how to do it in a way that doesn’t trigger us. Ultimately Brock has applied his rigorous research approach to understanding human dynamics in the kitchen. As a result, this document is a field guide to navigating the human relationships experienced in the rarefied atmosphere of the restaurant kitchen, and identifying new, enlightened ways to master them.