Chef Nadege Fleurimond: From Avocation To Vocation; How I Turned My Hobby Into A Career
Discipline beats talent any day. I struggled the early years of my business. Cause I was good. But I lacked discipline. I learned early on that if I didn’t get my structure in place then there was no business. Doesn’t matter how talented you are, if you can’t respond to emails in a timely manner, don’t have structures and timelines for various tasks and action plans, your business won’t move forward.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Nadege Fleurimond, an entrepreneur, speaker, author and business strategist living life in New York City. Utilizing her Haitian culinary background as a guide, As a chef, Fleurimond pulls a world of flavors from Asian, Latin American and European Cuisine to create tasty events that inspire, motivate and unify.
Her catering company, Fleurimond Catering has catered for companies and institutions such as Ann-Hauser Busch, Columbia University, New York City Hall, BET News, and The Colbert Report, as well as notable individuals such as Vivica A. Fox, Al Jareau, and Dr. Mehmet Oz’s organization Healthcorps. Nadege has also catered at the White House.
Through her own quest for self-discovery, Nadege has learned and wants to reinforce, that the sky is indeed the limit. Who you are is not tied to a job title. Your true self will manifest no matter where you place yourself. Thus, through her ROAR(Reach, Organize, Act, Realize) Living method, she encourages a life of passion and purpose.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I was born in Port-au-Prince Haiti. I grew up with my mother, my younger brother and other close-knit family. But at seven years old, my mom informed me that I would be moving to NYC to live with my dad, whom I never met and knew very little about beyond our once every couple of months “hello dad, I’m fine” on the phone that took place when my mom would place a collect call to him.
Moving to NYC to live with my dad was a complete culture shock. But the whole time prior to boarding that American Airlines plane to leave my known family for this unknown new world, my mom's words kept me going: “Be good. Be strong.”
Back then good meant don’t give my dad trouble, but over the years good has morphed into being good to others, be good to the world, be good to yourself. Be good in all you do.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
The ah-ha moment was more like…let me try this and see how it goes. Oh yes, it works! Let me try it some more and add this to it. Oh, that works too. Let’s keep going.
I grew up with a single immigrant father whose sole goal for me was success. And that success meant being a doctor, lawyer, engineer — something “respected”.
So, my junior year while at Columbia University, when my friends who loved my cooking started hiring me to cater to various campus events, it was a side hustle that paid more than my work-study did.
From friends, it grew to catering for student clubs and then to administrators wondering who the new caterer was that had amazing food and finally to oh, I guess I can start posting on Craigslist.
Never did I imagine with my Political Science degree that I was embarking on an entrepreneurship journey. Hence, why even though I had clients and support before I graduated from college, I decided to get a nice safe job with an elected official as I “thought about law school”.
A year later in 2004 after quitting that job and embarking on full-time entrepreneurship it was more of a getaway from the restriction of the 9–5 rather than the need to start my own business wholly.
I built. Slowly. But always in the back of my mind, I would go to law school. Even when I had been a full-time entrepreneur for 5 years, catering at the white house, for various celebrities, I still thought it was something I did. Not my path.
Sixteen years later I think I’m still waiting for that ah-ha moment. I still don’t think there was a particular ah-ha moment. I’ve always been a brick by brick type. And even when a house is complete I’m still looking for ways to improve it so it has never arrived.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Perhaps the be strong words my echoed to me always remained in everything I embark on. I think there was an unspoken “it won’t be easy”. So i guess believing that, set the tone for me to fight.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
It’s ok to not want to do your hobby for a living. I’m a born entrepreneur, so for me, it’s natural to see opportunity in everything. And of course, if we are going to work we might as well do that work doing something we love.
But it’s also ok for work and play to remain separate. No matter how much we love cooking, knitting, talking, etc., as soon as the label of work and obligation is attached to it the approach must be different and the stress level changes, even if just slightly. Its a whole different feeling baking a cake because you feel like it as opposed to someone’s wedding depends on you. So it’s ok to want to maintain your hobby as just that.
But if the reason is fear, I say push.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
One of the best gifts that have come out of this whole entrepreneurship journey is the permission I have given myself to change my mind. It’s ok to start and realize something is not for you.
Once play is work, there will be days you don’t want to. There are days I don’t want to cook. There are days I don’t want to speak to a coaching client. But there’s a service I committed to so I have to deliver.
But I never want to get to the point of dread and how I avoid that is understanding which aspect of my hobby that has turned to work can I now outsource. In the beginning, you may have to be bookkeeper, graphic designer and receptionist, but know yourself to know which part you don’t like nor want to deal with and make plans to not have to. Outsource!
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I enjoy the freedom to choose projects that fit my mission, and goals. I enjoy helping my clients bring their dreams to life.
I don’t find there are any downsides to entrepreneurship. Even hardships (financial, clients, and staffing) are all lessons for me. I think it’s all mindset
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
Yes. The recession of 2008. At this time, I had only one business venture: my catering business. So everything rested on it. After all my corporate contracts fell through, I came down close to putting that Columbia education to use and getting a real job. But I just kept thinking I could make it work. And I did.
I learned that diversification was the name of the game. I built the human and social aspects of my business. Instead of focusing on solely corporate catering, I started developing the social catering side of my business weddings, graduations receptions, etc. Even though the economy was bad people still wanted beautiful weddings and celebration events.
I also incorporated curating my own events, brunches, gala’s, etc. I figured since the events weren’t coming to me I would create my own events for people to attend (and pay me for).
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I remember my first off-premise catering job was on Wall Street for a couple that wanted a private dinner party and on the menu they had red snapper.
I was still a senior at Columbia and I got the gig from posting an ad on Craigslist. Now me being from the Caribbean we eat our red snapper whole and I remembered they thoroughly enjoyed the meal!
It was a three-course meal for four but afterward, someone said “that was delicious but oh what an adventure that fish was” because it had the head, eyes, etc.
I learned from that event that it’s important to understand your clientele. Yes, I was used to eating fish whole and cooking whole fish, that experience made me learn the value of always doing your research beforehand or at least fine-tuning the details. I now do fillet just to be safe.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
My audience. The feedback that people give me. Often time we think what we do is so small and irrelevant, but our very action gives people the courage to follow their own dreams.
For a long time, I worked with my head down because I was so focused on achieving this “success” that was never even clearly defined to me. So I never looked up to see what I had done, and I was never grateful for all that I had been given.
When I finally did look up, part of the realization was that success is not a destination. It’s a journey. And perhaps it’s a journey that may not have a final destination but each encounter is either necessary for your growth or someone else’s.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I don’t know if I have used my success, but I continuously use my existence to encourage and elevate others. I strive to breathe hope and positivity in all my encounters.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Yes, you set your own schedule but you will be working more hours than if you had a 9–5.
I often hear people wanting to start their own businesses because they want to wake up anytime they want.
Sleep late. Wake up late. This journey has shown me that the early bird often gets the worm unless you are a super productive midday person. But when I wake up early I get so much more done. And though I can choose to sleep late I don’t because I’m building my own empire. That motivates you to work longer.
2. Business is farming not hunting
People think they will come with a great idea and everything will be honky dory. It doesn’t work that way. I have had deals come to me from someone I met years prior and didn’t keep in contact with.
I once got a grant to do some culinary diplomacy work with the US Embassy based on a woman who had reached out to me to cater for her mom’s birthday. Though that event never happened, she stayed on my mailing list, kept up with my work and when the opportunity came, she remembered me.
So you never know who’s watching and sometimes a relationship won’t pay off for years down the line. So always show up correctly!
3. Discipline beats talent any day
I struggled the early years of my business. Cause I was good. But I lacked discipline. I learned early on that if I didn’t get my structure in place then there was no business. Doesn’t matter how talented you are, if you can’t respond to emails in a timely manner, don’t have structures and timelines for various tasks and action plans, your business won’t move forward
4. Greatness can only be achieved in starting
Part of what helped me succeed is I was always a tad bit less fearful than most. I understood failure was part of the course. But what I also learned is that it is in doing that you get great.
I recently decided to start doing Facebook & IG live cooking segments. My angles and lighting sucked at first. Even though I had already planned what I would be doing, but as I do it, I get better each time.
I see what works. I understand the situation by being in it. Don’t lie to yourself with the “I’m a perfectionist” phrase. Often time that’s just fear talking and us giving ourselves permission to procrastinate. Yes plan, practice, but the real magic and learning is in the doing
5. Your Tribe will determine a lot
Initially, on this journey, it’s going to be you and you alone on many days and nights. But oftentimes you will find 2 or 3 amazing people that are willing to burn that midnight oil with you; those that are willing to give of their time, money and whatever resource they can offer. My friends have been my graphic designer, servers, drivers, and everything else.
Surround yourself with great people. Not a lot. But a few good ones. Cause they make this road so much easier
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
My movement: You can R.O.A.R (Reach, Organize, Act & Realize) to and through anything!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is that our job is not to find ourselves but rather, craft ourselves.
My dad pushed me at a very young age to understand that things don’t just happen. We make them happen. I told my dad at 12 I wanted to be a fashion designer. Though he thought the idea was ludicrous, he never said anything.
But a few months after having stated that he said, “so you never read fashion magazines, I never see you holding a needle, I don’t even see you watching fashion shows. How is this fashion designer going to happen?” From that convo, I understood early on that we need to put work into who and what we say we want to be.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Oprah. She exudes the confidence and vulnerability that I think we all should strive for. Often time, I think we believe they have to be mutually exclusive.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.