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Everyone is in the Relationship Business | Chef Jensen Cummings (Best Served Podcast) | DH098

Jensen Cummings interview on the Digital Hospitality podcast

Chef Jensen Cummings life in the restaurant industry began before he was born.

The super chef turned multi-hyphenate has generations of kitchen prowess, management and hospitality in his blood. When it came time to turn pro in the family business it proved an instant fit for Chef Jensen Cummings (@chefjensencummings).

“I started my career at seventeen,” Jensen Cummings looks back on this episode of the Digital Hospitality podcast. “I was just a punk kid who barely graduated high school and I found my people in the heat of the kitchen.”

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Finding Success in the Restaurant Industry:

Ascending and arriving after finding his tribe, the kid turned cook was on a hot streak. In a matter of time, Jensen Cummings worked his way up the ranks and became a star in his space.

“The fact that I could be great at something — because I never quite fit in anywhere else — was important,” Jensen Cummings shares. “The trajectory led me to James Beard Award winning places, I had my name in lights and lived that life for better or worse.”

The ‘better or worse’ part of Jensen’s journey sheds a light on the dark parts of the service industry few want to speak on.

Unhealthy schedules. Substance abuse. Sleepiness nights. Depression.

Jensen found himself in the thick of the heat right when he was in the swarm of the spotlight like so many of his role models before him.

“We went from being outcasts to being the cool kids,” Jensen looks back on himself and his peers. “We didn’t quite know how to handle that. Everyone wants to talk to the chef, and it goes to our heads. I know it did for me.”

Soon enough, it became apparent to Jensen that he had to break the cycle ingrained in him by the industry he was born into as it was also the same industry that could bury him.

Reaching peak popularity and turning into leadership, Jensen’s journey now running the show assumed new heights but also a more meaningful mission.

“We become the establishment,” Jensen reflects on a chef’s rise.

“You die a hero or live long enough to become the villain. That plays out in my mind all the time. We are the establishment now and we have to recognize what we do with this opportunity and this responsibility today that’s going to manifest the outcome for my two kids, for your two kids, for millions of people that we will never meet.”

No longer just the byproduct of previous generations but the torchbearer for future families entering the industry, Jensen is all about changing the conversation and culture around mental health and company culture in the kitchen.

The man who’s had his name in the lights and once went seven years without a sick day now has his voice on Clubhouse and his Best Served Podcast as a beacon for health and help. Using his platform, Jensen isn’t perpetuating the monster of celebrating 14-hour shifts, rather he’s shifting the conversation on creating care and stability for his staff and his customers.

“We need to start recognizing that we are in the relationship business,” Jensen Cummings states on the Digital Hospitality podcast. “We need to build relationships internally and externally to have any chance. The product is just the vehicle for that. My shift on the work side is so important because we devalue ourselves. We put up this facade of this tough guy and unfortunately parts of the business actually perpetuate that monster.”

Slaying the same monster that had him living the industry lows for many years, Jensen is sharing lessons, giving game and trying his best to break the norms with every conversation he has.

“That’s the work that we have to do today,” begins Jensen. “We have to pick ourselves back up and we can’t get into that drama triangle of blame, blame, blame. ‘Oh, it’s kids these days and it’s unemployment and its people don’t pay enough for food.’ Those could be true in these microcosms, yet if you zoom out and you look at the big picture, this is something that we built. It’s been built for a couple of generations now and it’s time for us to realize we fell flat on our face.”

The same 17-year-old who found himself in the heat of the kitchen is now carrying the torch to bring light to the issues that plagued his family and friends before him.

Jensen Cummings journey is far from finished but the work he’s doing to change the culture around the kitchen could save his kids and your kids, too.

“The hero brings the fire back to their people,” closes Jensen. “That’s the point where we have to get to and that’s what we’ve got to do. That’s the responsibility.


– Feature article by Ian Stonebrook, Cali BBQ Media Content Specialist. Connect with Ian Stonerbook @ianstonebrook on social media. 


Chef Jensen Cummings interviewed on the Digital Hospitality podcast

About Chef Jensen Cummings:

From LinkedIn: To say that Jensen Cummings was born into the culinary world is an understatement! Jensen is a fifth generation Chef and Restauranteur. His family have owned restaurants since the year 1900! This Southern California boy grew up surrounded by great food and even greater people to inspire him.

Jensen is a big movie buff, when others were filling out college sports brackets, he was doing Oscar brackets. Since his first experience at Chavez Ravine, getting a cheap blue giveaway glove signed by Ramon Martinez, he has been a true blue Dodgers fan. His thirst for flavor, knowledge and experience has led him to scour the country eating and drinking craft beer. Absorbing inspiration and stories of passionate people along the way.

Now calling Denver, Colorado home he is hyper-focused on his dedication to bringing value to the people working within the hospitality industry. His work as a storyteller, consultant and brand developer have lead to some of the most unique concepts (and products) in the market delivering on the promise of hospitality to both internal and external guests.

As part of his efforts with Best Served Creative to focus on Why and Who before what and how, he launched the Best Served Podcast. There he gets to interview industry leaders on why they get out of bed in the morning and who they do it all for. They have the chance to reflect on the people who have impacted their lives and careers. So important in a business that gets caught in the minutia of the day to day grind.

His prowess as a public speaker are bringing education and inspiration to forums such as chef conferences, food fermentation groups and craft brewing events like the Great American Beer Festival and Big Beers-Belgians-Barleywines.

He finds his truest love for educating when he is in front of a room of culinary students hoping to help spark the future minds of the industry. His bravado and philosophical delivering (along with a few F-bombs) really resonate with audiences seeking authentic insights into hospitality and the opportunities and challenges therein.

Finally, his commitment as a philanthropist are changing lives for the better, Jensen’s most of all!



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