Challenges are a hallmark of Kathy Jones’ life, working as an executive chef who is underrepresented in her field.
“I like a good challenge. I’ve played drums. I’ve been married for over 22 years with two daughters and five grandchildren. I like photography and kayaking, where there’s no time limit.”
Jones’ latest challenge is to work as executive chef of the Nashville-based Big Woods Restaurant Group, which includes 12 restaurants, breweries and distilleries in central and southern Indiana, including Bloomington, Edinburgh, Speedway, Indianapolis. , Franklin and West Lafayette.
Jones has worked as a chef for over 40 years. She is among 12.5% of executive chefs in America – 135,236 as of April 2022 – who are women and one of only 8% of executive chefs who identify as LGBTIQ.
Since July 2022, she has served as Executive Chef of the Big Woods Restaurant Group, often spending nights in Nashville and other locations to better oversee the company’s kitchen operations.
The evolution of culinary work
A lot has changed since the start of Jones’ career. “It wasn’t cool to be a chef in the 80s when I trained at the Culinary Institute of America.” She went to their eight-week program. She recalled that she “may have been overconfident” as she headed into the job market.
Her training included time at Florida State and she recently earned the Rice University Certificate in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. She enjoyed “learning to have difficult conversations,” a skill useful in working and managing the kitchen.
Jones said she has seen other changes in the hospitality industry. “Cooking is so much higher now than before. With social media, everyone knows immediately if you are doing things right. I’m thrilled that people know ‘how to eat now’ and enjoy it more thanks to the Food Network etc.,” she said.
“The culture has changed. There were no human resources in the kitchens when I started. We are taking big steps in the right direction.”
As executive chef of the Big Woods Restaurant Group, Jones follows in the footsteps of his role models, including Anthony Bourdain and Thomas Keller. “I have all their books and I care what they have to say in the heart and warmth of everything.”
The restaurants she runs target the whole family, offering casual dining with a variety of price points, although she admits ‘food prices are very tight right now’ due to production shortages and other factors. .
She spent many happy years as Executive Chef at Iozzo’s Garden of Italy in Indianapolis, where she worked from June 2009 to April 2014. She was with them from the start and “loved seeing them succeed.” I like to see where they have gone. I loved the family atmosphere,” which solidified in the trenches of the hard lessons one learns as an executive chef.
One of his toughest days involved procrastination. Some of the “equipment was not great but expensive to replace”. When the health department visited, the freezer was slightly below temperature. The official made him open every piece of food and throw it in the trash. She learned “the costly lesson of doing the right thing even when it’s hard.
“My philosophy now is that you should care about the food you cook. Your audience can feel the love you put into the food.
She began to care about food by learning respect for fish and the ocean as a child working with her father, a charter boat captain in Florida. “I learned to respect the fish and the quotas. How we treated the ocean critically if our industry was sustainable. I loved my time with my dad on the water.
Add leadership with culinary work
Jones brought his leadership philosophies to life during his time at Second Helpings Indianapolis under recently retired CEO Jennifer Vigran, his mentor and role model. Second Helpings “transforms lives through the power of food” as a social service agency focusing on hunger relief, food rescue, and culinary skills training. Jones worked there from August 2017 to July 2022.
“They save over-ordered food from organizations like USA Foods, CISCO, Kroger, etc. They saved 3.6 million pounds of food a year,” she said. “They sent 25 million meals a week to 90 partner agencies, including the Boys and Girls Club. He is always so near and dear to my heart.
Jones is happy to connect interested restaurant partners with them via email at Kjones2@bwqoht.com. Additionally, Second Helpings trains underemployed adults for restaurant jobs with free training from professional chefs, including ServSafe, leading to five hours of Ivy Tech culinary credits.
Although Jones’ work has earned him awards, including Celebrity Chef for Rev 2022 and Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch’s Hoosier Service Award in 2018, Jones’ legacy is his ability to mentor up-and-coming chefs.
Omar Guzman Ulloa, originally from Mexico, worked with her at Iozzo’s in Indianapolis when it opened in 2009. Since then, he’s been executive chef at Cobblestone Grill in Zionsville. He returned to Mexico City to “work at world-renowned Pujol, aspiring to Michelin star territory,” Jones said, adding, “Mentoring sous chefs is very important to me. I train my sous chefs to they take my job. Our role as chefs is to develop our people. We have to keep “culinary traditions” alive or they die.