Jennifer Sussman’s first clue that her future might be in culinary came in the form of a beautiful Italian candy with liquor inside, given to her by her father, a Navy carrier ship seaman, fresh home from Naples, Italy. A feast of professional adventures would unfold from that moment.
From the eclectic tastes, and love of food inherited from her father, to culinary school at the highly regarded Tante Marie Culinary Academy in San Fransisco, to discovering her natural talent as an Ingredient Specialist and Category Manager for GreenLeaf and Dean & Deluca, CW has benefited greatly from Sussman forging the path to the world’s greatest ingredients (and nurturing seedling purveyors to success along the way). You just might say, Jennifer Sussman is one of The Chefs’ Warehouse’s prized, ‘secret ingredients,’ for success.
Despite having fallen in love with her first Easy Bake Oven as a child, Jenn’s dislike for the processed foods oft given to kids ‘of a certain generation,’ was immediately apparent.
Jenn shared, ‘I was a finicky kid from the start. I hated canned or processed food, even though those were staples in those days. I hated fish and chips (from frozen) at home but when my father took me to a great seafood restaurant in San Diego and I had fish fresh from the ocean, I loved it; the real thing. My father would also cook recipes for me that he would learn from his travels though he was not a professional cook. He’d make chipped beef on toast and beef bourguignon. He was always adventurous. He’d eat his meat rare at a time when everyone else was cooking the hell out of it.’
Reminiscing on the role her father played on her path to her ultimate profession, Jenn offered, ‘When I decided to go to culinary school instead of going to law school, (which is what I thought I would do after college,) my father was very supportive. He moved me to San Francisco to go to culinary school. I was going to school and working full time and he would call me every Sunday and ask about what I was learning to make.’
Sussman, who at a young age had thought she wanted to be a nun until she realized being overly curious and challenging ideas were not ideal traits in that particular world, always had a passion and affinity for extremely well-made things. She shares her early ambitions of being a clothes designer, ‘I love a really well-tailored dress. Creating something of true quality from the finest materials has always been something I’ve been passionate about. But, more than anything, I always wanted to own my own restaurant. And that’s why I went to culinary school.’
Jenn’s love of sacredness, beauty, integrity, and diverse artisanal ingredients intermingle prominently in her role as Director of Category Management with CW. Being a touchstone for chefs, purveyors, and the nationwide CW Sales Team, of the myriad tiers, seasonalities, trends, and challenges of culinary, requires a dynamic skill set. When asked to distill down what she does for a living, she offers, like it’s easy, ‘I procure the best products, at the best prices and sell them to the best customers.’
Considering that The Chefs’ Warehouse provides the world’s greatest ingredients to North America’s best chefs, with seven main categories populated by endless subcategories and offering thousands of the finest specialty ingredients procured domestically and internationally, it is surprising that Sussman finds time to sleep. To this she counters, ‘I love everything about this job. Even if my email box is overflowing. I chose a long time ago to be happy with whatever I do. But, it also helps that I love the company and I love the people I work with. This makes me want to be a better leader and a better employee.’
Building long enduring relationships with vendors is one of Jenn’s many strengths. Beyond supporting vendors, Sussman is known for helping to launch many new artisanal brands. Jenn shares, ‘I love nothing more than to see CW grow and our vendors succeed. To be a part of an item’s rise to success is very satisfying. But launching items can also be tough, especially if they’re perishable. So, it takes a lot of drive and an educated sales team like we have at CW.’
With a keen eye for what’s next for culinary, Jenn offers, ‘I would say plant-based. However, given the economy right now, the convenience of an item is more crucial to our chefs than ever. Due to labor shortages, supply issues, and a pending recession, chefs are looking for quality, wholesome ingredients that can help them save on time and labor, as well as ingredients that are multidimensional/multipurpose that go further in terms of dynamic application. Our job is to help them find these items.’
Being the D.C.M. in the know with close ties to the most talented chefs in the nation (and abroad) means that Sussman is privy to some of the most future-forward, earth-conscious creations as well. Jenn enthusiastically illuminates one of her favorite recent discoveries: ‘There are a lot of innovative things happening in terms of recycling or reusing ingredients. For example, the other night, I was dining at Blue Hill at Stone Barns and realized the china we were eating off of was made from the bones of the grass-fed cows that they have to provide their meat. I never realized that bone china was a combination of actual bone and porcelain. They take the bones, grind them down and pulverize them and they make their own gorgeous 100% grass-fed bone china. That’s what I mean by reuse and
repurposing. This is the future. Complete up-cycle. It’s very exciting.’
The original ‘spark’ that fuels a person, a career, a company, or a prized dish, starts somewhere that is most often innocent–wonder and instinct. To this end, CW is grateful for all the sparks that ignite the interest and talent of the chefs, purveyors, and in this case, their very own Director of Category
Management who one day becomes a winning ‘secret ingredient’ in their company universe.