Interview: Meet Pamela Keith, Founder/CEO of CuisineStyle

By Jordana Siegel, Girls Innovate! Teen Committee

As a member of the Girls Innovate! Teen Committee, I was fortunate to have a chance to interview Pamela Keith, the Founder & CEO of CuisineStyle, last Friday. We sat in the wonderfully-chic and -inspiring modern kitchen of the Sub-Zero | Wolf Culinary Events Center in Burlingame, CA.

Pamela was extraordinarily warm and friendly and made me feel at home right from the beginning. Her answers were thoughtful (you could tell she contemplated them long and hard); and I learned so much from her in the brief time we chatted. I cannot wait to learn even more from Pamela this Sunday, when Girls Innovate! will get to cook with her! 

Thanks to Pamela for letting us put a camera in front of her and ask all these difficult questions (not to mention offering the cooking workshop as a service to Girls Innovate!)! Thanks also to Riggs Distributing, Inc. for hosting the interview and workshop! We’re very grateful!

Here is the video clip of my interview with Pamela.

Pamela also kindly typed up her answers and shared them with us below. Thank you, Pamela!

Q&A with Pamela Keith

Question #1. What are the top 3 life lessons that you would like to pass on to your daughter?

Life Lesson 1. Do work you love. Not just like. Love. It’s a “my entire being likes to go to work” kind of feeling. If you can, choose work that has “extension” possibilities so you can grow and learn new things in the field you love. For me, it’s food. Everything I’ve ever done in business has related to food, and the experience of enjoying it with others. Becoming a chef is part of that. Being a teacher, writer, event planner, etc. Doing work I love has kept me happy at work and on a continuous creative path. Growth and learning new things is essential.

Life Lesson 2. “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Helen Keller. Sometimes in life, it’s better to jump and then grow wings. But you must have faith that you’ll fly. Dream with wild abandon of the things you want to do in this lifetime, and then have the courage to do them. Remember that the bravest people can also be the most fearful people. It takes great courage for a fearful person to break through that fear. But to grow, our courage must become bigger than our fear. Be brave enough to jump. Be someone who is known for her courage.

Life Lesson 3. Live with gratitude. Be grateful for what you have. Say thank you often to God and to every being who has given you all that you have in life, taught you lessons in life, sacrificed for you, and loved you. Living with gratitude radiates a positive outlook on life every single day. I still say “thank you” daily for my wonderful daughter, Taylor. Being her mother is the greatest joy of my life. She is my dream come true.

Question #2. What motivates you to do the work that you’ve done as a professional – from becoming a chef, pushing through in a male-dominated field, to becoming an entrepreneur – none of which are easy, simple, mainstream things?

The answer goes back to the first life lesson, and doing what you love. I LOVE to cook, and share the kitchen and table with other people. My work is creative, every day. It’s different every day. And I like owning my own company. It’s like being the admiral, navigating the channels. And believe me, there are uncharted waters! When it comes to catering, it’s theater, and I love what happens when the curtain goes up. I get to be part of peoples’ lives – thousands of people, by creating an everlasting experience of beauty through delicious foods, served by a world class staff in a gorgeous setting.

I don’t think I’ve ever been a mainstream kind of person. I started working in restaurants when I was sixteen, and always felt comfortable in that environment. When I moved from the front of the house into the kitchen, I saw the kitchen crew as just a bunch of guys. By the time I made it to Paris and cooking in Michelin star restaurants, as humbling as it sometimes was, I’d had enough experience, in kitchens and in life, to stand up to the “big boys” in those French kitchens. Today, there are many uber talented women running kitchens and their own empires in the food industry. There’s never been a more exciting time to be working in the food industry.

Question #3. Can you share with us any role models you had growing up? Anyone who inspires you today?

My professional role model growing up was my grandmother, a Swedish immigrant and professional chef. Like a lot of immigrants, she put her skill set to work and made a way and a new life in America. I baked my first apple pie with her when I was 5. I took it to Show and Tell at my kindergarten class. I brought it home and kept it in my room where I could admire it every day. I never ate the pie! My pie lived in my room, enshrined and adored.

Who inspires me today? Still, my Grandmother. My daughter, Taylor. Barbie Aknin, who inspired me to go to France. Julia Child. Mother Teresa. Atticus Finch. Malala Yousafzai. Many many wonderful people – friends and family I spend time with.

Question #4. What is your creative process like? How do you come up with a recipe?

My creative process – I think of food in design terms. A dish or recipe will develop in stages. I muse about ingredients and think in color and texture and how these elements fit together. I’m not a painter, but I think my creative process might be similar. I’m inspired by the seasons. Like, I’ll think orange. I’ll visit the scent; flavor; juice; oil; zest; fruit; pulp, etc. I’ll think about how orange makes me feel. I imagine a dish using orange and how it would play with other ingredients. Something created from an idea or an inspiration. That’s the basic palate, and then the details of flavor and composition come in to play. Once I have it together, I’ll name the recipe and write it down.

Question #5. What is your vision for CuisineStyle as a creative and business endeavor?

CuisineStyle began as a spark of inspiration I had for the kind of job I wanted to create for myself. First – I needed a job. It needed to be a job where I could do my work and at the same time, create freedom to be a mother to my new daughter. I envisioned a work environment where she could be with me while I worked, and one I could control so I could be with her as she was growing up. I didn’t want to miss any of her “firsts,” and all the milestones to follow. My goal was to create a world for my little family that would “work,” and it did. My original concept was to create a full service culinary company. I started with catering as the anchor, and then added team building cooking events because I love to teach. I had my sights set on creating a line of packaged foods for entertaining and everyday enjoyment. That’s all come to fruition. In the mix came CuisineStyle Parties To Go, consulting projects, cooking classes, and community involvement. I’m working on expanding CuisineStyle into the national market and have two new projects currently in the exploration phase. I’m excited about it.

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Jordana getting ready for the interview at Riggs Distributing, Inc. in Burlingame, CA, home of the Sub-Zero | Wolf Culinary Events Center