Chef Michelle Brown Inspires Empowerment and Leadership in the Kitchen
The atmosphere of an elite restaurant kitchen is similar to that of well-tuned sports team. A number of highly trained individuals come together and collectively use their talents to create something that goes beyond what any individual could accomplish. This results from a careful blend of passion, dedication, and leadership.
These qualities are what cultivated Chef Michelle Brown’s love for the culinary arts. Brown, who is the chef proprietor and majority owner of Jag’s Steak & Seafood in West Chester Ohio, grew up participating in sports and competing with kids in her neighborhood—often as one of the only females. What resulted was a drive to prove herself in everything she sets her mind to, something which has carried over into her career.
“I grew up in a neighborhood with 20 kids around the same age. My sisters and I were the only girls in the neighborhood, so standing up to boys started very young. As a young woman in the culinary industry, I always strived to be the best at every station I had the opportunity to work,” Brown says.
Although she did not feel like she was at a disadvantage for being a woman, she knew that as a young chef she had to work hard to reach success.
“Actions speak louder than words,” she says.
Brown used each new work opportunity to prove that she earned her spot, just like athletes winning a coveted position on their team.
Years of Training Honed Skills
First, she pursued a four-year mentorship with Bankers Club Executive Chef John York while attending college, followed by opportunities to work in San Francisco and as an executive chef at a Cincinnati country club.
The culmination of these experiences led to Brown’s own endeavor, as chef proprietor at Jag’s Steak & Seafood, an award-winning, fine-dining restaurant located in West Chester, just north of Cincinnati. Opened in 2003, Brown brought the concept of Jag’s to life by crafting a menu of her own interpretations of classic steakhouse dishes and new, contemporary options.
In 2015, her career reached new heights when she became the majority owner of the restaurant. This allowed her to add her own touch to the restaurant’s decor, entertainment offerings, and private dining. She headed an interior renovation of the restaurant in 2017, which featured modern design elements with a classic, yet lively tone to accompany new tastes and a premier live music lineup.
However, in the midst of exciting entertainment and sleek interiors, Brown hasn’t forgotten the heart of her restaurant. Creating innovative menus and a welcoming kitchen culture is a top priority in providing her guests with an unparalleled experience.
“Good, respectful communication between the management and owners is the foundation to how your staff will communicate with each other,” Brown says of her work style. “Instilling a team environment between the front and back of the house staff is essential to take the best possible care of our guests.”
The kitchen itself also streamlines the operation. Check lists, neat storage areas, order guides, and pressed linens allow for smooth production and foster a positive environment. Brown attributes this attention to detail as a benefit of being a woman business owner and chef in a predominately male industry.
“I believe that women are great organizers in time and precision, which allows them to be unbelievable cooks and chefs,” Brown says.
Brown learned the value of being a woman in the industry working for a female colleague in San Francisco. Brown says that she was taught tough love and the importance of a sincere passion for the presentation of food.
Today, Brown uses such knowledge to help mentor other female culinary students at Jag’s. She guides them not only in the kitchen, but also in balancing other life interests, including family and friends.
“Being a chef, regardless if you’re male or female, takes time and dedication to be good. It can be a hard thing for anyone to balance. I feel that for young women, it is especially important that I show them that you can be successful and have a great family life,” says Brown, who lives in West Chester with her husband and two children.
Positive leadership qualities are something that Brown finds important in today’s industry. For her, leading with intimidation and fear is never the answer to running a successful kitchen or business.
This mentality ties back to Brown’s days growing up playing sports.
“Every mistake is an opportunity to train, coach and learn,” says Brown when reflecting on her time as a leader. “I have never yelled or loudly corrected any member in front of staff or guests. It’s not the way to solve an issue at hand. I truly care about my staff, and in return, they truly care about the success of the business.”
Actions speak louder than words, after all.
When asked what she is most proud of professionally, she resonates with the idea of her work going beyond the benefit of the individual, “It’s my ability to imagine bigger than life things and have the courage to make them happen.”
West Chester resident and Cincinnati native Laura Peyton has spent her entire career in the restaurant industry. She currently serves as Jag’s Steak & Seafood’s creative director, where she is responsible for the brand’s vision and execution in marketing, photography and events. Peyton and her husband, also in restaurant management, share a passion for fine wine. They frequently allow their travels to encompass the extraordinary vineyards of Napa Valley and beyond.