Women in Business Q&A: Janine Booth, Chef, Root & Bone

Chef Janine Booth was born and raised on the beautiful, big island continent of Australia. Her culinary journey began at a very young age where the Australian sunshine encouraged family and friends to gather around the backyard barbeque - everyone taking part in grilling juicy meat and vegetables and preparing farm fresh salads. For Janine, food has always been about bringing people together, making memories and celebrating life.

Living in a multicultural society, Janine was fascinated by the array of amazing dishes that her friends would bring to school for lunch, and would often swap her ham salad sandwiches for Greek lamb wraps or Asian stir-fries and rice. The discovery of these many new flavors and cuisines inspired her to begin cooking classes where she was encouraged by her cooking teacher to represent her school in a cooking competition. After taking first place, her passion, drive and creativity were ignited.

In 2006 Janine took an eight-month exploratory culinary sabbatical, traveling through Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Turkey, Germany, Monaco, UK, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Croatia, Thailand and Indonesia, where she gained an incredible amount of knowledge on international flavors.

Janine went on to study the craft of culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu in Miami. Following culinary school, she kicked off her professional career as a Chef at gigi's restaurant in Miami under Executive Chef Jeff McInnis. Following her time at gigi, Janine landed at the acclaimed Yardbird Southern Table and Bar of Miami Beach in 2011, once again working under the tutelage of Chef Jeff McInnis. After almost two years at Yardbird, Janine decided to return to a cuisine very close to her heart, Northeastern Thai, taking the position of Sous Chef on the opening team of Khong River House. Within three months of opening, the restaurant was nominated for a James Beard award.

This past October, Janine appeared on NBC/Bravo's Emmy award winning television show, "Top Chef," cooking and competing against 18 other chefs in New Orleans. While Janine didn't make it to the end, she did redeem herself on Bravo's "Last Chance Kitchen," beating out four competitors and remaining at the top for another four weeks. Now settled in NYC, Janine has brought southern hospitality to the LES with the opening of Root & with her partner, Chef Jeff McInnis, also of "Top Chef" fame. Root & Bone is a neighborhood restaurant celebrating Southern fare and country comforts, a roots revival of timeless Southern recipes & traditions.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up in Australia with amazing parents who immigrated from Ireland, to give me and my two sisters a better life. They sacrificed a lot for us and continuously support us in everything we do. They have always been great role models to me, demonstrating that with hard work and dedication you can create something great. Mum and Dad have always been business owners, from ice cream franchisors, to hair salons, burger joints, news agencies, restaurants, you name it, they have tackled businesses, built them up and sold them. Some businesses brought great success and others were not as successful. My Dad is also heavily involved in a charity called Opportunity International, that helps women start businesses in less developed areas of South East Asia. My parents have really inspired me to be ambitious, set my goals high, work hard to achieve them and be grateful for everything that I accomplish.

How did your previous employment experience aid your position at Root & Bone?
Obviously the past restaurants I have worked at have taught me the skills I need to be a great cook, chef and business woman. I also worked in radio for a number of years, so the skills that I acquired then have helped me greatly when it comes to media, marketing, advertizing, events and PR. Each of my past jobs have taught me many different skills that have contributed to my position at Root & Bone in some way. You really do get out what you put in and I believe that it is so important to dedicate yourself to your work, even if it isn't your ideal job or dream position, each will teach you unique skills and you never know when this knowledge will be useful in the future.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Root & Bone?
Getting the doors open at Root & Bone was the most challenging part so far. It took us almost a full year from first viewing the space to file permits, complete construction, pass inspections, have our gas switched on and open. That year was the most challenging of my 27 years so far but definitely the most rewarding. We were blessed that we have been very busy right out of the gates and the amount of positive support and love we have had has just been outrageous! Although the restaurant industry brings a lot of challenges daily, we are lucky to have an amazing family or staff who work hard every day to continuously be creative and deliver the best Southern food and hospitality we possibly can. Seeing our guests leave, happily singing our praises of how amazing their experience was, is something that will never ever get old!

How did appearing on Top Chef change your career?
Top Chef was such an amazing experience for me. I met some very talented chefs, got to cook in one of the most uniquely cultured cities in America (New Orleans). It is a great platform for young chefs, and definitely helps to open many doors and opportunities. It is amazing to go through service and have diners come and say hello and personally tell me how amazing their meal was and that the reason they had to eat at Root & Bone in the first place is because they were rooting for me on Top Chef! It is a really warm feeling knowing that people are supporting you in your dreams!

What skills did you take away from the program?
Top Chef really pushed me to believe in myself, listen to my gut instincts and find my confidence as a cook and as a chef. You are thrown into some interesting challenges that are meant to do just that! They challenge your creativity, your time management and really make you think systematically, which are all extremely important skills to have in this field.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Things are still pretty hectic for me. The restaurant is still a baby that needs to be nurtured, so that usually means I am there 6 days a week, anywhere from 12 - 16 hours a day. My daily routine usually starts with a green smoothie, walking my dog and then heading into the restaurant to start prep for the day. Usually this means setting up for brunch and dinner service, testing out new dishes, planning events, working the line, training staff. A few times a week I am lucky to have media opportunities where I will host cooking demos in the restaurant or cook at outside events like the NYC Wine & Food Festival. I am hoping once things settle down a little I can find time to squeeze in a daily run along the east river with my dog and have a little more time to enjoy this amazing city!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
In the restaurant industry the biggest issue is that there aren't many of us. A professional kitchen isn't the easiest or safest place to work and I feel that this can be thought of as an undesirable environment to work in. The majority of my staff that work back of house are men, but I would love to have more females join me in my kitchen. When I meet fellow female chefs, I am always very supportive and respectful of what they do everyday.

How has mentor ship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
My parents have been huge mentors in my life and have definitely made me a better business woman. Any time I need advice in business, I always look to my Dad who is just a wealth of knowledge and can always point me in the right direction. My partner Jeff McInnis has definitely been an amazing mentor to me since I started culinary school. He continuously helps me to develop into the best chef I can be, inspires me daily to push myself and when I think I have given it everything, he encourages me to work a little harder and I am consistently surprising myself with what I am able to achieve. He is definitely the person I look up to in this industry and hope that I can be just as successful and knowledgeable as him one day.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
April Bloomfield is definitely a huge inspiration to me. She is an unbelievable chef and restauranteur, with a number of amazing concepts here in NYC and a James Beard Award for Best Chef under her belt. Anytime I have dined at one of her establishments I have had a wonderful experience and am left inspired by the experience. April is someone who is constantly pushing boundaries and thinking outside of the box.

What are your hopes for the future of Root & Bone?
I really hope to open more Root & Bone locations either in NYC or possibly in California or even Australia! I would love to bring Southern food and hospitality to my home town of Perth, as well as to Sydney and Melbourne. Australians are truly missing out on something very special, so opening Root & Bone back home would be a dream come true! I also have ideas for other concepts that are completely different to what we are doing at Root & Bone so getting them off the ground at some point would be awesome.