Jeremy Buck Of Coterie: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Restauranteur
Things are never going to work out exactly as you expect so you have to be able to adapt and find other solutions to get to your goals.
As part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing… Jeremy Buck, part of Food Service Direct’s Who Is a Chef “.
Mr. Buck has over twenty years of food and beverage experience. His career started in fine dining in Charleston and Boston during college. After earning a degree in Biopsychology from Boston College, he dabbled in other paths from real estate development to life coaching, and a city wide wifi company. He returned to F&B with an opportunity to learn from and work for some of the most renowned craft cocktail bar owners in NYC. He continued to work for and with the best in the cocktail scene and began contributing and running his own programs. Craft cocktails took him all over the world creating programs from NYC and Napa valley to Mumbai, India. After a couple of years abroad in asia, Jeremy returned to the US to start his own space just in time for the pandemic to begin. When consulting lead him back to Charleston, he found the perfect space not just for a bar concept, but to bring all of his myriad of influences and people into a restaurant aptly named Coterie.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?
I don’t think anything is ever one experience leading to something. It is the combination of many disparate elements. When I was you I started in fine dining and was captivated by the passion, complexity, and all there was to learn. However, i also saw all the work and commitment and was not ready for that. College gave me an interest in psychology and how we perceive the world. Travel gave me experience of many influences. Then coming back to F&B in the craft cocktail world gave that opportunity for passion and creativity from me that I saw in others as a youth. The idea of creating my own space was to bring all these aspects together. To be able to cultivate a guest experience through all the choices from decor and lighting to food and drink and the people presenting it all.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
Coterie is a contemporary Indian restaurant. The gentleman that introduced me to the people I worked for in India is also one of my Co-executive chefs, Viraj Borkar. He and I used to do cocktail and food popups and often discussed what modern Indian food looks like. Our approach is meant to be a cool restaurant that serves great cocktails, cultivated wine list, and also Indian food. With the addition of Flint Spencer and his southern caribbean background, we have a menu that balances our location in Charleston SC with a global, clean modern Indian cuisine.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
I guess to start, this is not my first attempt to open something. From bad timing, disappearing investors, and even a fire it did not work out the first time. With Coterie, we opened in early 2021 so navigating a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic has been challenging. Staying mentally flexible is the key. Things are never going to work out exactly as you expect so you have to be able to adapt and find other solutions to get to your goals.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
I create craft cocktails and not dishes, but I think the approach is similar. It is about knowing what you want to accomplish. I often say, if it is successful, you should taste this or think of this…when discussing a drink. Experience shows us what will be an easy crowd pleaser, but you are often surprised about which drinks people are crazy about. I just don’t take it too seriously. The drink I love, might not be for everyone else, and that is fine if I feel it shows what I wanted it to show.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
That is a difficult question. I like everything from fine dining to taco trucks so it depends on my mood. It is about the company and the experience so every aspect is.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
For me, it comes from many different directions. From trying something new and inspiring to an idea that sounds fun to put into form. I think one key thing is down time. You need time away from the restaurant and thoughts attached with it to allow for new ideas to come in. ironically, it is often not trying to come up with an idea when the best ones come.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
There are a few things for Coterie and some other concepts that are in development, but it is too soon to share. Continuing to create is important.
What advice would you give to other chefs or restauranteurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
It is good that the idea of burnout is now so common. It is important as I said earlier to have time and thoughts outside of the restaurant. When you are getting started or pushing, it can seem like it is lost time, but i disagree wholeheartedly. You get more work done, better work, and better ideas when you have rest time. Whatever that looks like for you.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
I really do not know if there are five specific things. You have the details you hear about like ‘it always costing more’, ‘six months carrying cost’, ‘hiring the right people’, ‘the deals with investors, landlords’, etc pitfall., But a lot of that gets specific to what and where you are opening.
To me, the preparation is mental. In creating anything there are going to be huge ups and huge downs. You will be thrown into an existential crisis even. The key is to understand that it is all part of it and hopefully find some joy in all aspects or at least some patience with yourself.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
Depends on the person. Our chefs and bartenders do a great job so there is nothing I would steer people away from. It is more finding what they like and leading them to the best choice for them.
You are a person of enormous influence. 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.
Not to take things too seriously. That is different from not caring. Care. Be passionate and work hard to create and design the life that you want personally and in business. Just realize there will be victories and failures and not to take either too seriously. After all, we are all just entertaining ourselves in this life.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!