Name: Jenny Treantafilos
Most likely to: Give a hug when you need it most
Favorite Quote: It’s more of a mantra “Trust the process.” But recently have randomly using, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” to rally the cooks. It’s just motivating/corny enough to set in!
It’s always been a curiosity of mine as to why the chef is the person we see the least, if at all, when we eat at restaurants. The argument could be made—and it’s been made to me—that people don’t come for the chefs; they come for the food. And while there’s a truth to that, I also believe it’s why aren’t as connected to our food as we should be. If we reminded ourselves that there is always someone else on the other end of our food experiences, we’d see that every meal is a gift prepared by human hands. As the Chef de Cuisine of Olmsted, Jenny Treantafilos doesn’t take this knowledge for granted. She lives for the moments when someone takes the first bite and is looking for the person responsible. It’s how she knows she’s done her job.
What is your earliest memory associated with what you do now?
Watching Emeril with my dad in my parents’ room. It was 2000. I was in third grade. It started at 8pm, and we did it every week. I think it was the first time I connected a chef to cooking.
When did your occupation become real to you?
I think I always knew this was what I was destined for. Food was a huge part of my upbringing. I started cooking professionally in NYC when I was 19, for a long time it was just about the push and proving myself. My mother passed when I was 22 and things changed. I eventually took some time away and dug deeper into the “why” of what I do.
When I returned to the kitchen, I came back with an acceptance, clarity and vengeance. Cooking is so much more than just food for me. I appreciate every little layer that goes into a restaurant and how there’s an organism thriving off your energy. That pressure drives me to push forward.
How does Brooklyn/your neighborhood particularly inform your work?
Olmsted is a small Brooklyn restaurant with big ideas. We are all challenged by the industry standard and our own standards for that matter. We stay committed to the seasons and sustainability and try to keep it accessible to everyone. We are fortunate to have the Grand Army Plaza farmer’s market right up the road and we shop there every week. Our regulars are our neighbors, most of the staff rides or walks to work, that closeness creates an indescribable chemistry.
What do you feel is most challenging about being where you are now?
Staying patient with myself and remembering that you mature with time.
What’s most rewarding?
The guest’s experience. Catching someone’s face as they eat something we cooked or having them literally cry as they leave because they were so touched by the experience. It’s why we do what we do! Working as a team to deliver that and it be received is the best feeling. I also really love seeing young cooks come up.
5 spots in Brooklyn people should know about?
1) Olmsted! Come say hi and have a snack in the garden!!
2) The thrift shops – One of my favorite past times.
3) Brooklyn Museum/Botanic Garden – Art and nature fix. Love them both!
4) House of Yes – Because yes, we all need to get a little weird sometimes.
5) Little Skips – My local coffee spot, delicious coffee, good music, grilled cheese sandwiches-just a a really nice place to get some work done.
What’s your most significant accomplishment to date?
Representing Olmsted in Madrid, Spain for our month-long pop-up was a huge deal for me. I was able to travel, cook internationally and meet really cool people. That experience was so fun and special. It was a such a honor that I was trusted to do that.
What/who inspires you?
I find inspiration in the everyday. I can get a little *ethereal* and start connecting earth to life and the planets but, that’s a huge motivation for me! My family is a big inspiration as well. Especially my sister, she can pick me up on my toughest days. I strive to make them proud.
Thinking about the future, where do you see yourself in the next 30 years?
Retiring with a Bed and Breakfast. It’s always been the plan, and it evolves every day. My hope is to combine all the things that speak to me and build something unique.