Our 4th Lou & Grey Girl Talk panel featured Taylor Patterson, Founder of Fox Fodder Farm and Daniela Soto-Innes, Chef at Cosme NYC. This night was filled with laughs and insights about their biggest obstacles and how they overcome them, how they deal with the fear of putting themselves out there, and how they’ve stepped into leadership role. Our favorite OKREAL quote: “You can teach someone how to work, but you can’t teach someone how to be a good person.”
Taylor: Fox Fodder Farm is a floral design company. We originally started as a studio, doing large events and weddings, weekly accounts, an array of things—and we now have a space in Canal St Market. I got into flowers at a time when I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I was waitressing, then started working at a flower shop and a lightbulb went off. Fox Fodder started in my landlords garage five years ago, and since then we’ve amassed more work, more bills and more people! We’re now a team of seven.
Daniela: My job is cooking, eating, washing toilets, washing windows, painting, taking Instagram photos. I am the chef at Cosme, and just became partners with Enrique (Olvera) two weeks ago. I moved to New York four years ago from Mexico, which is where I started working with Enrique. After working with him for a year, he told me, ‘Move to New York and open my restaurant.’ And I was like, Haha! OK. But really? And he was like REALLY. So a week later I was in New York in a strip club. And the guy there says: ‘You’re going to be the chef here.’ I thought, my life is over. But I guess let’s do it. But as I’m walking through the cabaret, he tells me that they’re going to rip everything out and turn it into a restaurant. I said OK cool, who is our contractor? And he said you are, right? So really, my story is one of googling everything. It was a big learning experience, but now we are open, and we just opened a second location on Lafayette (Alma), and I am the happiest I have ever been. Very stressed and very busy, but very happy.
Daniela: I grew up in Mexico. My parents moved us to Houston when I was 12, because Mexico wasn’t that safe. I lived there until I was 17. Then I went to London, ran out of money for school and came back. Before that, I broke my shoulder and lost my scholarship. It wasn’t because I wasn’t smart enough, it was because I was really tired cooking in the morning. I was the only person who had a full-time job, a business degree, and was also doing professional swimming. So I was broken. I came back to Austin to go to culinary school for two years, then moved back to Houston, then back to Mexico. That’s when I began to work with Enrique, and I couldn’t believe I was in that kitchen. I was so used to working in really strict kitchens where you don’t talk to the chef, you don’t smile and music is off. But in Enrique’s people were throwing tomatoes at each other. I loved it.
Taylor: I spent a lot of my 20s feeling really weird and confused and not knowing what I wanted to do. After college I lived in France for a while working as the mean door girl for nightlife events. I remember calling my mom crying saying that I was bad person. I’m from Delaware originally, so moved back to New York because I didn’t know where to go. I thought I was going to be here for maybe six months, a year, two years max. And now it’s been eight. I had a bunch of different jobs. I worked for a costume designer making nipple pasties. I worked for a jewelry designer. I worked in restaurants and front-of-house. I was a really bad hostess and an even worse waitress. I got an internship with a landscape designer because both my parents were really big plant geeks. That felt familiar, and from there, I got a job with a flower company and it felt right. I worked with them for six months, and during that time I had a boyfriend who was really ambitious and encouraged me to do my own thing. So I got a stand at the Brooklyn Flea selling plants and cut flowers in mason jars. That led to people hiring me to do random jobs, then Pamela Love (jewelry designer) asked me to do her wedding. It was featured in Vogue, saying ‘Flowers by Fox Fodder Farm’ which gave me the cred I needed to be like, ‘Yeah, I do this.’ The fact that it hasn’t been straightforward to get here is super humbling.
Daniela: I still wake up sometimes thinking, what am I going to do with my life? And then I go to work and I’m like, this is what I’m doing. I remember! We have a lot of girl cooks and they go through that drama everyday: ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life!’ And five minutes later they’re dancing. I’m like, see! That’s what you’re doing, right now. Enjoy what you are doing at that moment. Tomorrow you might have a great idea and if you don’t, you will another day. Relax a little bit. Don’t be too tough on yourself. The minute that you’re tough on yourself, the insecurity starts. You have to open your eyes to all the people around you and the fact that you have a home. Nothing is too serious in life, really.
Taylor: I don’t know how to to say this without sounding weird, but I judge people based on the way they sweep a floor. Seeing how certain people maneuver a broom, I’m like… you’re never going to last. The women who work closely with me now know this. They’re like, oh dear, she doesn’t like the way she sweeps. But it’s about work ethic: how you do anything is how you do everything. It shows how much you care. So sweep the floor with intention.
Daniela: Showing up and being friendly is really important to me. If you’re willing to do something, do it right. And listen. I also believe that you can teach someone how to work, but you can’t teach someone how to be a good person. Find people who are good at their job and learn from them. You have to be humble enough to know that you don’t know everything. Like Anita’s coconut yogurt: I tried to make it and it wasn’t as good as hers, so I will just buy hers. Find good people that will work next to you and you can shine together. I always say: you don’t work for me, you work with me. We now have 138 people who work with us. I don’t like calling myself a ‘boss.’ But the toughest part about being a leader is having to teach people how to do everything. If you want them to work hard, you have to work hard. If you want them to do things perfectly; you need to do them perfectly. If you tell a cook to do something and you cannot do it, you are not the right person to be teaching them. You have to teach people to be so much better than you. I bribe them with Mescal.
Taylor: I think a big part of being a boss is letting go. Especially if you are a creative and you have people working with you towards the same goal. For me, it’s a lot of letting people who may not do things the way that I do things, find their own way. That part is hard because I am sitting there like thinking, OK, hmm, you are going to do that like that…. You have to allow people to make those mistakes and being supportive when they do. Because that’s how we learn.
Daniela: I know that I know nothing about cooking, because I travel a lot and I go to different kitchens at least once a month. And I see things and I’m like, I don’t know anything. You might be a boss here, but you go somewhere else and you are just a person. I fear success. I could do really well today, but what’s going to happen tomorrow? The restaurant might doing great, but then a reviewer will come who doesn’t like cilantro and we get shut down.
Taylor: The more successful my business becomes, the more insecure I get. I’m like, why is this working? The more you achieve, the more pressure there is to keep achieving. And there are days where I’m like, I have to shut this thing down, I don’t know what I’m doing. We might lose a big job and the insecurity seeps in. That’s my biggest fear, giving into that insecurity and not taking the step back to say—we have a good thing going on. It functions well and we have these really great clients. I’m afraid of QuickBooks and excel sheets and my accountant.
Daniela: I can remember what felt like a big failure for me. Five years ago, I was in Berlin for the most important event for the restaurant. We were representing Mexico at the biggest food fair in Europe. I was the chef who was cooking for five thousand people. These five thousand people were press—from magazines, foodies from all over the work. I get into the kitchen and there are 300 people in white, all German, who all stand up at the same time. I start giving them a prep list in Spanish (which I speak when I freak out). My responsibility for the event was to get the meat: enough for five thousand—the most expensive part of the meal. I am telling them how to cook it, in a stadium-sized kitchen. There was a refrigerator the size of an entire room for the meat. That night, we went to the party, slept an hour, then wake up to a storm. The storm shut down the power and the refrigerators went off. An entire ton of meat, ruined. I was hiding in the freezer crying. I’ve never been so scared in my life. How do I tell Enrique that I ruined one ton of meat for the most important event in Mexico—for my country—at the most important event ever in Berlin? I called him and explained, still crying. He said, ‘It’s OK. We’ll buy more meat. But you have to go buy it. So then I started calling people saying, 'I need a ton of meat.’ It all worked out in the end. But that was a huge one. I didn’t get fired, which was crazy.
Taylor: When bad things happen, I try not to dwell on them too much. I’ve messed so many things up—I’ve planned badly, flowers have died, I didn’t really like the client. It’s about accepting responsibility, dealing with it, then moving on. You have to think, what am I taking away from this?
Daniela: In terms of routine, I meditate, I do yoga occasionally. Sleeping is an option sometimes. I used to sleep seven hours, now I sleep three. But it’s OK; it’s going to pass. On my day off, I will sleep eight. We stretch every day before service. We do 100 sit ups. And this is where the yoga pants come in. In the kitchen I wear a black t-shirt, a blue apron and yoga pants. There is no way out from the yoga pants. I don’t care if it is not professional. I love my yoga pants. I own it. All the girls in the kitchen now wear yoga pants. At first they laughed at me. We have a Russian guy who decided he also wanted to wear yoga pants; he is 6'8" but wanted to be included.
Taylor: I run a lot. That’s pretty important to me, it gets everything out. Morning wise, I don’t really have a routine. Sometimes it’s just up and out the door as fast as possible. I often don’t often eat breakfast. My assistants will hand me stuff when I get hangry and have that look in my eye. When it’s 9:30, I go to bed. My requirement for clothes is, pants that won’t rip in the butt. The number of times that I have squatted down to pick something up, or stepped on my car tire to get something off the top of my car, and then rip—and you’re stuck with it all day.
Daniela: I really just want to make people happy. It stresses me out when people are not happy. We work in an industry that is really stressful. We’re in New York— we have the best restaurants in the world. When people go out, they are always comparing, so it’s easy to feel insecure. My goal is to make the people in the kitchen the happiest people. We are in the basement so we don’t see people having fun and drinking. Maybe there is a cute guy cooking next to you, but you can’t flirt because you smell like garbage. Having a solid happy team around me is important; I’ll take the punches for that. My biggest inspiration would be my mom, and myself. I am inspired by the person I am today. That is what makes me want to do better— because if I am not happy, the people around me will not be happy. And of course, Enrique. He is the best mentor I have ever had.
Taylor: Someone I really admire is Jean Adamson, who owns Vinegar Hill House. Before we were friends she was one of the scariest people I knew. If someone told me five years ago that we would be talking about boys, I would have told you to shut up, because I was scared of her. She has been a huge mentor of mine.
Daniela: In terms of advice for my 22 year old self….Don’t buy those shoes. Don’t date that guy. Don’t lose that iPhone 15 times. Don’t lose your passport, again. Call your mom.
Taylor: Mine would have to be: You don’t know everything. Get over yourself. Stop stressing. You’re 22, you do not need to have it figured out. I’m 33 and I’m not even close. Take my dad for instance, he’s like, ‘I still don’t know what’s really going on.’ So to my younger self I’d say, you’re going to be fine.