Meet General Manager Joe Stevens of BAR BOULUD in NYC
On New York's Upper West Side, General Manager Joe Stevens brings his vast hospitality experience and strong work ethic to Chef Daniel Boulud's casual French bistro.
The child of a Sicilian restaurateur, Joe started working at his family's business since the age of 12. From dishwashing and bussing, to cooking and waiting tables, he learned every aspect of the restaurant industry. Having found his calling, Joe enrolled in the French Culinary Institute (known today as International Culinary Center) to learn the art of fine cuisine. Accustomed to a busy schedule, he worked throughout his studies in various high-end restaurants and continued to do so post-graduation.
Gaining exposure and experience, Joe spent five years as the dining room manager and beverage director at Beacon Restaurant in New York. Later moving on to join Colicchio & Sons, he began as a captain and climbed the ranks to bar and restaurant manager in the span of three years. In 2012, Joe landed at the exclusive Gary Danko in San Francisco, where he served as assistant manager and helped the restaurant achieve the highest-rated service in the country,
Upon his return to the East Coast, Joe joined Daniel Boulud's Restaurant Group in 2016. Ever adaptable, he started as an operations manager at Café Boulud, followed by stints at Restaurant DANIEL and Boulud Sud before settling into his current role as general manager at Bar Boulud. Equipped with his tasting spoon, Joe often stops by the kitchen to taste Chef Dieter Samijn's cuisine, ensuring both food and service are reaching the highest of standards.
Ultimately for Joe, "every meal is not just fuel for the body, it's enjoyment." In his off time, he enjoys visiting his parents, smoking meats and relaxing on the boat. Passionate about food, Joe is always planning what he's going to cook next.
Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure in interviewing Joe Stevens about his career and Bar Boulud.
What are some of your earliest memories of preparing and enjoying great food?
Growing up, my family always had home cooked meals and I often helped my parents in the kitchen. Sundays especially, were usually one of two things; roasted chicken with whipped potatoes(every now and then rosemary roasted red potatoes) and vegetables or my father would start a pot of "sauce" at 9:00am, put on Andrea Bocelli and watch football while the sauce simmered away with meatballs, sausage, pork ribs, and whatever other meats he had in the fridge. My first high end dining experience was at Taillevent in Paris, when it was 3 Michelin stars. The kitchen was immaculate
You have a broad range of experience in the culinary and hospitality profession. Who have been some of your mentors?
My father was my first real mentor, he was a workaholic and instilled a strong work ethic in me at a very young age. 5 days after I turned 12 years old, I was cut off financially from my parents and was told I had to work if I wanted anythign more than a roof over my head and a hot meal. So I started as a pastry cook during the weekends and a bus boy during the week. When my father was 65 years old, he came out of his second retirement and was F&B Director for a small country club in Westchester, I was 16 years old and he made me scrub a toilet in the bathroom, I was not happy about this but at one point I looked over and he was on his hands and knees scrubbing the toilet next to me. This was a defining moment for me, and I told myself I would never be too good for any task.
My second mentor was Waldy Malouf, he was Chef/Owner of Beacon Restaurant on 56th street. My first NYC job was working for him as both a line cook, and a captain. I worked all the late shifts, because I was in school during the day. Waldy was happy with my ability sell, and asked me if I was interested in being a sommelier. I had very basic knowledge of wine, but he was willing to take a chance with me and put me in charge of a $750,000 wine inventory. He reached out to his friend, Kevin Zraly, and got me a position pouring wine for his "Windows of the World" wine class. My role at Beacon quickly expanded to Beverage Director and acting GM. It was working for Waldy Malouf, that I realized I had plenty more to learn, and got sucked into the intensity of New York City and its restaurant scene.
We'd love to know a little more about your time at ICC?
When I was in culinary school, the ICC was the French Culinary Institute. I went into culinary school having cooked for 9 years, so as far as ingredients and basics, I felt I was in pretty good shape. What I quickly fell in love with, was the french technique, especially with stocks and sauces. I am a firm believer that a great sauce can mask a mediocre protein, and a bad sauce can ruin a great protein. Working with old school french chefs like Jacques Pepin, Andre Soltner, Alain Sailhac taught me nothing goes to waste. It was the first time I worked in a kitchen where chefs would walk around and look in the garbage. I remember people being scolded for throwing celery a leek trimmings in the garbage, because they should be part of a stock. This was also when I began sharpening my own knives, and really the first time I owned high quality knives.
What have been some of the challenges of your career?
When I first entered management, my biggest challenge was being taken seriously. I was 23 years old, and I looked like I was 17. While I dressed the part, I would often notice guests think I was just a kid. I remember one instance during restaurant week in 2006 I had a guest who had two different promotional cards, which clearly stated they could not be combined with other promotions, and he was livid I would not accept it. He stood up (over 6 foot tall), towering over me and was screaming at me in the middle of the dining room. I let him say what he had to say, and calmly told him it doesn't need to be like this, and I would love it if he had a seat and enjoyed a nice meal with his wife. His wife was mortified at his behavior, and I think the fact that I did not let him get under my skin, made him feel foolish. He wound up enjoying dinner, calmly, and on the way out him and his wife both apologized and thanked me profusely. That day I realized how important it is to keep composure.
One other challenge of my career has been learning how to manage so many different types of personalities. The restaurant industry attracts a variety of colorful personalities, from all walks of life. To get the best, and the most out of people you need to know how to manage them. Everyone reacts differently to different styles of management. Being a very young manager, I had to adjust my management styles, and pick my battles.
My most recent challenge over the past few years has been adapting to what the restaurant industry has become. I grew up in the old world, school of hard knocks restaurant world. Chefs grabbed me by the ear, threw pans at me, I had a bus boy punch me in the neck at service bar on a Friday night in the middle of service, and I had a 300 lb cook threaten to stab be during service. All these types of happenings are, for the most part a thing of the past. I have had to understand that I cannot manage people the way I was managed when I was younger, I need to be more patient and understanding or else everyone will go work for Danny Meyer.
Can you lend some advice to others wishing to enter the culinary profession?
Be patient, and work hard. Many young men and women enter the restaurant world and expect to be a superstar right out of college. While culinary school, and restaurant management school provides people with a strong foundation, I believe the restaurant industry is one that you need to learn from the ground up, in the kitchen, in the dining room, that is where you learn humility, and to respect and understand all roles.
What are some of your own favorite meals?
Buffalo Wings (yes, I consider that a meal) and celery, with bleu cheese
Tacos al Pastor
Pizza and Pasta
Steak Frites with Bearnaise Sauce (or au poivre)
What do you enjoy most about being the GM of Bar Boulud?
I enjoy making people happy, both guests and staff. I have always enjoyed making guests happy, but being able to help our team to become better at what they do, and go home happy and proud of the work they have done, that is very enjoyable. I also enjoy being able to represent a product that I am proud of. Chef Dieter's food is amazing, Daniel Boulud's brand, the team he has built, and he himself...truly amazing.
Tell us a little about the team at Bar Boulud?
Our team at Bar Boulud is a mix of tenured and newer members. Some of our team has been here since Bar Boulud opened over 11 years ago, and some have joined over the past year or two since I have been here. We have a great, tight knit team. Bar Boulud is a very busy restaurant, and it only closes one day a year. We spend a great deal of time with one another, and we have a great deal of respect for one another, we are a family.
Anything else, absolutely anything you want Broadway World readers to know?
If you haven't been to Bar Boulud, come by!
Bar Boulud is located at 1900 Broadway (at 64th Street) New York, NY 10023. Visit: https://www.barboulud.com/nyc/ or call them at 212.595.0303.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Bar Boulud