Marcus Guiliano: “I want to inspire more chefs and consumers to act responsibility. I want them to take the money out of the equation and do the right thing, because it’s up to us.”

Yitzi Weiner
May 10 · 11 min read

I had the pleasure of interviewing Marcus Guiliano. Marcus is a two book author, international speaker, entrepreneur, restaurant business coach, Forbes Business Council Member and listed as One of The Top Five Food Activists making a difference by OneGreenPlanet.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What inspired you to become a restauranteur?

Being from an Italian family food was a focal point of everything. My mother and grandmother always cooked dinner daily. I was confused by my neighbors eating habits. Some ordered Chinese or pizza while others had frozen TV dinners. After working in resorts during high school I was draw to the kitchen. I wanted to do what the line cooks were doing, but my main goal was becoming the chef.

Culinary school became the obvious next step for me after high school. I got to take some extra classes in business like accounting which has proven to be an impact on my entrepreneur skills.

After close to 10 years working my way up the kitchen ladder it became harder and harder to work for someone else. That is because I was developing my own style. A style that consisted of healthy and sustainable Farm To Table cuisine that was also socially responsible. I just couldn’t find an employer back in the early 2000’s that was interested in that angle of cuisine.

What has your journey been like since first stepping foot in a kitchen?

My journey has been life changing. I started a TEDx talk with a confession, “I was killing you”. That’s how I felt my career had evolved. I was a young chef apprentice striving to cook for the best chefs and hotels. With that came a very rich style of cuisine. However I soon came to realize that the larger the kitchen the more they relied on factory farms and processed ingredients. And even things that we made from scratch were nutritional nightmares. Things like crème brulee that was basically equal part cream, eggs and sugar. It might be ok here and there but when you work at these esteemed kitchens like I did, the menu food often becomes your staff meals. Years of eating like this started taking it’s toll on my health. Every job came with a new pant size. At 27 years old, my doctor told me that I needed cholesterol medication. I refused and he reluctantly gave me a month to change my diet. I sort of had an idea what I needed to do. The first thing was to stop eating at work. Or totally change what I was picking for my staff meal.

30 days later my blood work came back with remarkable results. Results that shocked my doctor. Now I had to figure out how to use my classical culinary training and adapt it to the new whole foods diet I embarked on. This took a couple of years to understand how to omit certain ingredients and add others that I had never used before.

At 30 years old I had totally transformed my culinary style, my health and my passion.

Do you have a specialty? If so, what drew you to that type of food?

My specialty is ethnic cuisines. I’ve always been curious about the things I don’t know. So of course that quest led me to various cultures. I helped in opening a Thai restaurant in 1998. That was a lot of fun and I learned a lot.

The bold flavors drew me in. The new techniques I learned fascinated me. I didn’t have to spend three days making demi-glace. That is the style of my food now. It’s local as much as possible, globally inspired and not over complicated.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef?

Cooking in an underground gov’t relocation bunker was an interesting experience. I just happened to be working at The Greenbrier Resort when the US gov’t vacated Greek Island. Greek Island was a secret gov’t relocation facility located beneath one building at The Greenbrier. This was built in the late 1950’s. I was cooking in a kitchen that was designed to feed our president and other elected officials. It was original equipment that was turned on everyday for 30 plus years. The undercover gov’t staff that managed the facility turned on every piece of equipment daily and updated newspapers, magazines and prescriptions from every one who was on the relocation list.

I cooked all winter in the bunker assisting the Sous-Chef with their leisure cooking class vacation packages. We were the first staff to use this kitchen to actually feed people.

Years later people still ask me if I knew about Greek Island. Boy are they impressed when I tell the story.

What is your definition of success?

Being able to make a living in my restaurant, balance family, honor myself and inspire my guests.

What failures have you had along the way? How have they led you to success?

I’ve been blessed with learning from my mistakes. I’ve even been fortunate enough to learn from others mistakes, but not often.

I opened my restaurant in a very depressed community in upstate NY. We have a population of 4500 and the village lost close to 1500 jobs the first couple of years I was in business. Business was tough. People were afraid to park in town. The communities reputation was at all time low. Not only did I have to build a restaurant, but I had to build a village.

This adversity forced me to be a better entrepreneur. It forced me to be more than a chef. It forced me to push harder than I ever had before. I looked for answers from other restaurant owners. I joined a mastermind group. I had to think way outside of the box. That journey began in 2003.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

Yes I sure am.

I do have an exciting project that I have been working on for a couple of years. And I’ve given it a major push in 2018. I wrote two business books in 2017 that I wanted to share my business techniques and inspire others. From that I launched an online 50 steps to restaurant success academy, monthly newsletter and coaching packages. I want to help the struggling restaurant owner and I’ve started actively pushing my speaking career.

What advice do you have for aspiring chefs?

Never ever take a job for the money. You take a job for the skills you will learn. Take a job for the skills you lack. Get out of your comfort zone. The goal is to build a very strong foundation that you can write your own ticket someday.

I followed this advice from a mentor and it worked very well. I went from $8–10 hour jobs and even some working for free. But the day I needed to support a house payment, wife and family I quickly rose to over $100,000 annually. The foundation was built and built very well. I had the big job offers all over.

Never lose sight of the skills that a job will teach you.

What is the key to creating the perfect dish?

It’s like a perfect game in baseball. Imagine the perfect game where an umpire made a bad call at first base resulting in the final out now being on base meanwhile the young pitcher’s perfect game is removed from reality. It always take much more than one person to pull it off and sometimes failing at something never been done before is the first step to succeeding. This is similar to what it is like to make a perfect dish. It starts with Mother Nature and our need for her to give the ideal weather to the farmer, then the distributor needs to deliver it in a timely manner, the prep cook needs to have a sharp knife and most importantly the patron needs to be wowed from it. Don’t expect to serve an out of season ingredient from 5,000 miles away that sat in storage to only be chopped with a dull knife and bruised to wow anyone.

With that being said I’m a minimalist. I like simple food with bold fresh flavors. Chefs can over complicate dishes sometimes. I remember working with the White House Chef for a special event. He decided to take amazing local ingredients and over think it. The lamb rack was butterflied out and stuffed with ramps. The potatoes where cut perfect. The vegetables were all treated in a steam spa. The butter had to be melted and stirred by hand to stay emulsified. The dish was beautiful and meticulously conceptualized and created but when everything came together it was overcooked and cold. Dishes came back to the kitchen with lamb chops on them. It killed me to watch all that hard work not fully enjoyed. From that moment on it was about cooking simple things with precision and skill. A proper seared salmon, a well roasted chicken, the proper size pan and the right temperature oil.

It is said that food is a common ground that brings people together. As someone who makes food for a living, what does this saying mean to you?

It brings much more than people together. It brings a community together. In fact, it brings far off communities together. It’s about respecting the people, culture, communities near and half way around the globe.

That is the true definition of bringing people together. Chose your food wisely.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef/Restaurant Owner” and why?

1 The very first thing a future restaurant owner needs to know is that they need to be a marketing maniac. Your first job every day should be to promote your business. Many great chefs fail in the restaurant industry and it has nothing to do with their cooking skills. They didn’t think to or didn’t know how to market their operation. Your first job is to market your business. In my personal experience, I realized when my seats were not full that I had to do more then just cook. I had to find a way to get the guests in the door and still cook good food.

2. Every restaurant owner needs to know their number one asset. That asset would be your database or your mailing list. The database is what you get when guests dine with you and give you their info. If a guest will give you their contact info then they will come back in. It’s six times easier to get a guest in the door the second time vs the first time. It took me my first full year in business to really understand this principle. Once I started communicating to my guests it revolutionized my business with marketing, promotions, birthday offers & general info.

3. You must treat your staff better than your guests. It’s that simple, but hard to do. You can’t have upset, angry, belittled staff taking proper care of your guests. It’s not part of the equation. Think about what came first the chicken or the egg. Happy staff makes happy guests.

4. You would never go to the doctor and not get your blood pressure measured. But many restaurant owners go month after month without checking the heartbeat of the restaurant. That heart beat is your food and labor cost and a basic profit/loss statement. They simply run their business with a blindfold on. What you monitor you can manage better. The more you monitor the more profitable your business will be. That is due to being able to make corrections. The quicker you can make corrections the better off you are.

5. Take time off. For this you must learn to trust and delegate to your staff. Trust is the key factor. It you don’t trust your staff then you will never be a true success. Train the right people and take 100% responsibility for your business. I remember the first night we had an event out. We actually closed the restaurant. It was heart breaking to hear that guests wanted to dine with us that night and were unable to. You obviously hire your staff for a reason and include trust in your reason.

You are a person of great 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.

Chef’s have the amazing power to influence everyone they feed on a daily basis. My youtube account has 15 million views and people are listening to the way I think about food and the environment. When I get emails from chefs asking for sustainable advice I’m honored. When consumers email me that my one video saved or regained their life, I’m honored. I want to do more. I want to inspire more chefs and consumers to act responsibility. I want them to take the money out of the equation and do the right thing because it’s up to us. One person asked me a question as a young chef at my first executive chef job. They asked me to source beef without hormones. They handed my photo copied articles. It made me think. I couldn’t act on it right then and there but that challenge started the process of getting to where I am today. That one question triggered my future cooking style and I wont ever forget it.

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 cook for and why?

I’d love to cook for a person with an open mind. I’d like to share my food activist philosophy. I’d like them to listen. I’d like them to change the way they think about our bodies, their families, the environment and people that produce the food they eat.

Their status wouldn’t impress me as much as their open mind to learning something new. I want to cook for someone who will say I want to help you spread your mission. Someone who has the power to reach and impact lots of people. Their respect earns my respect.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.