Jason Vincent—executive chef and partner of Giant—has had accolades rain down upon him by some of the most notable publications in the business. And yet, in an interview with Thrillist in 2016, he refers to himself by saying, “No one cares what a washed-up chef in a tiny neighborhood joint is doing.”
Thrillist agreed to disagree with him on that. After spending some time getting to know him, so do I.
Vincent opened Giant in 2016 after taking a hiatus from restaurants to help raise his two beautiful daughters. He enjoyed this so much that he almost didn’t return to restaurants at all.
But, the kitchen eventually called him home.
“I love the smell of it…the way the floor feels…I’m used to the height of everything. Every kitchen has standardized counters, so feeling that force against the same part of your body is very comforting. It’s like a hug.”
Working in restaurants since he was 15, Vincent credits a large part of his mentality to the fact that he’s “worked for a lot of hippies where sexual harassment never existed in the kitchen. Lula (Café) was maybe one of the most hippie places on the planet…never happened there. I was very lucky.”
Is it possible that Vincent never noticed bad treatment towards others because he had personally never experienced it? “I will fully admit I get very wrapped up in my work and I keep my head down,” he says. “So, I may not have noticed things that went on in some kitchens.” Either way, his mentality with regards to behavior in and out of the kitchens is one of equality, parameters and mutual respect.
When Vincent finally returned to the culinary community and opened Giant in Chicago to rave reviews, he did more than create a neighborhood restaurant with elevated food. He began setting an example of how restaurants should be run.
“Paying your dues and getting f*cked with a little bit is way different than being harassed because of your gender or ethnicity or sexual orientation,” Vincent declares.
“There’s a lot of daylight between some wet-behind-the-ears punk who thinks they can graduate from culinary school and stand at the pass and look pensively at plates” (LOL) “and someone who is being exposed to harassment.”
Vincent and his fellow partners at Giant, Ben Lustbader and Josh Perlman, put their money where their mouths are. “We draw the line when it comes to competition. The goal is for everybody to learn. There’s no getting rid of competitive nature, but you can become a Darth or you can become a Luke.”
Every kitchen employee at Giant is given a paid opportunity to stage (intern) at other restaurants around the country for at least two to three days.
“We don’t send our guys out with the mentality of ‘Here’s how you can get ahead’. We send them out with ‘Be nice, do your job, and do it right.’”
The partners at Giant have also implemented a strict no-borders mentality for front of house and back of house staff, a challenge that every restaurant routinely faces.
“Every single night of our first couple of months, we took these chairs,” he indicates at the small dining space in Giant, “And sat in a circle. We did something called ‘working-not-working’. The overarching point was not to make people suffer through a litany of people complaining about stupidity but to make this a better place to work.”
Something about “working-not-working” seems to have worked very well; every employee that was hired on day one of Giant still works there.
“We sit down every day for family meal together and break down the barrier of server vs. cook. It’s all adult to adult discourse. It’s commonality. We’re all people working here.”
With more sexual harassment scandals pouring out of the woodwork, it looks like other men in the restaurant industry could learn a thing or two about respect and leadership from this self-proclaimed “washed-up chef”.
A note from Jason Vincent post-publication:
“To be very clear, I never saw sexual harassment at any of the places I worked. That is not to say that it didn’t exist. Quite the opposite. I guarantee the women that I worked with have plenty of examples.”
P.S. If you’re hungry for more and don’t want to miss a single Behind Chicago Food story, be sure to subscribe by e-mail (completely spam-free with the option to unsubscribe at any time)!
P.P.S. Curious about my views on complimentary food, event coverage, and more? View my policy page here.