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Ten Vancouver F&B Talents Get Real About ‘Imposter Syndrome’

The milk crate is an iconic symbol of the working class hospitality stiff. These durable, utilitarian boxes are used as walk-in cooler shelving as often as they are transformed into make-shift chairs, stools or tables. Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant — front of house or back — has found themselves sitting on one for a moment of respite. They are ‘the great back-alley equalizer’, and because of this, they are a venue for some of the most authentic conversations and honest human connections happening in the industry.

‘Imposter Syndrome’ refers to the state of doubting your abilities and feeling like a ‘phony’ who could be exposed as a fraud at any moment. It tends to affect high-achieving people who have trouble objectively acknowledging the real skills and achievements they have made.

The Question

As someone who is a leader in your industry and widely recognized for your talent, have you ever wondered how you fooled people into thinking you knew what you were doing? In other words: have you experienced Imposter Syndrome? If you saw someone else showing signs of this syndrome, how would you help them to go from feeling like a charlatan to ‘owning’ their achievements? Can you/have you taken this advice yourself?

The Answers

Daniel McGee | Chef de Cuisine, Wentworth Hospitality

I have and probably always will have a form of this, but I see it as a ‘positive’. It keeps you humble and pushing forward. But if it’s truly affecting your confidence and performance, then you need to somehow learn how to believe in yourself. I have been fortunate to work with some very supportive chefs and cooks over the years who pushed and encouraged me, usually over a beer, to believe in myself.

Antonio Cayonne | The Mackenzie Room

I experience this often – in both of my chosen career fields. And it sucks. I try to focus on two things – the first is the facts: what is it exactly that’s triggering this feeling? Often the feeling of being a ‘phony’ is just the sauce on top, but as I dig down to what’s causing that feeling, I find something I’m anxious or sad about, frustrated by, or some other emotion that I can actually address. The second is: what is my relationship to those around me? When I’m feeling like I don’t belong, I try to focus on making the people around me feel better; to make sure they feel as though they belong. Water their grass, pump their tires, lend them some sugar. It takes the focus off of me, which takes some of the pressure off as well, and helps create space for a little perspective and gratitude.

Shaylen D | General Manager, Pizza Coming Soon

I am an over-thinker myself, so I definitely suffer from Imposter Syndrome sometimes. But that’s derived from self-doubt. I just have to remember I’m a friggin’ Queen, and my bosses believe in me and put me in this position for a reason.

Doug Stephen | Owner, The DownLow Chicken Shack

I am so impressed by the talent that surrounds us in Vancouver, and the people I see doing incredible things, and I can’t help but feel a little ‘imposter-y’. I know that for many in my life the feeling is mutual, though. Working in an industry where the majority of criticism we see or hear is negative, it’s hard not to feel that way. I try to let people know when I see them doing something incredible.

Joël Wantanabe | Chef + Co-Owner, Kissa Tanto

For a lot of my life, I vacillated between feeling like an imposter and realizing that I wasn’t one because I was doing the thing I felt like I was an imposter at. Logic kicks in. And then it disappears. And then it comes back again.

I would bet that most high achievers feel that they are imposters, at least sometimes. I’d take that a step further and say that is likely because, at some point in their past, they were told, through actions or words, that they weren’t good enough. When that happens, I think you end up chasing this idea of not failing. Not necessarily ‘achieving,’ just doing whatever they need to to avoid ‘failing’. That drive comes more from fear than desire. And fear makes you want to control. So you get good at controlling, and that can look a lot like ‘achieving’. Age and experience bring you closer to reality. You learn to accept rather than control. I’m just cooking. I think I’m good at it. Sometimes I know I am. But I’m just cooking.

I’ll always have the fire under my ass to ‘not fail.’ And there will always be moments when I feel I do not deserve the accolades. But now I know having those moments is ok, and I move past them pretty quickly.

Andrea French | Co-Owner, The Pie Shoppe

I tell all my friends, new and old, that I wish they could see themselves the way I see them: as badass, creative, funny, smart, wonderful humans. I need a reality check a few times a year, to tell myself that what we have done is impressive, strong and smart, and we stick to our values. Doubting yourself is a dangerous slope. If I could give anyone advice, I would say: lift someone up, don’t bring them down because of jealousy or worry that they might be better than you. Let them be better – you might learn something that will help you in the long run. The younger generation is our future. Be a positive influence for them.

Mike Robbins | Owner + Executive Chef, AnnaLena

A healthy feeling that should be embraced, I think the idea of feeling like an imposter is a symptom of insecurity. Insecurity is the great equalizer to your confidence. As long as it does not prevent action, it is an effective tool that should be listened to, valued, and appreciated. If you feel like an imposter in your situation, you should not feel the need to step down in submission, but rather forced to step up to the challenge.

Aiyana Kane | Co-Owner, The Burrow

My partner, Jackie, and I opened The Burrow when we were still in our 20s, and I remember in the early days feeling like I was living a role that I hadn’t earned. With very little experience in the industry, and no formal business experience, there were SO MANY things we didn’t know. Plus, our staff were mostly friends and peers – a strange position for a young person. Over the years, I’ve come to feel much more comfortable and capable of all that it takes to operate our business, and Jackie and I have hit a groove of shared responsibilities – where we are “experts” in different aspects of running the business. These past few years, however, have challenged us in new ways. In so many ways, we are at a new beginning. There have been so many challenges to the stability of our business through the pandemic – so many pivots and changes – we certainly can’t rest on what we’ve learned. We are having to admit what we don’t know, reach out to others for mentorship and peer support, and again be in that uncomfortable yet life-giving period of new learning curves.

Dallah El Chami | Superbaba

My experience with Imposter Syndrome is funny because it’s partly true. In other words, I was an imposter in this industry – my educational background is marketing and finance; my work background is tech startups – and I had no business being in the food industry. I have always been passionate about food and business, so I started doing whatever I could to be a part of it: pop ups, helping with catering gigs, posting food on Instagram, etc. Which led to quitting my job, a little traveling, a premature business plan, and finally a chance to open a restaurant with some industry veterans.

I like to call it an opportunity to fail – no one should have asked me to join them in opening a restaurant, but sometimes with enough adversity, you decide to do whatever you can to make it, or put up your hands and walk away. I believe that I succeeded purely out of fear and determination. Through that struggle, I dropped any feeling of being an imposter.

When I see someone who can do the work, but who feels like an imposter, I believe they haven’t reached their struggle yet. Once you do, and get to the other side, the weight of that struggle crushes any doubt in your mind. My advice to them is to push harder and find their challenge. What’s the saying? “Calm waters never made a skilled sailor.”

Chanthy Yen | Executive Chef, Nightshade

My battle with Imposter Syndrome has been ongoing since before my early days in the industry. Raised in a kitchen with aunties and grandmas, my cooking methods have always been challenged and criticized. Training under chefs of many cultural hats was like a reset button every service. Even when I opened my first restaurant (“Fieldstone” in Montreal), I was afraid someone would call me into the light just to laugh at me. I feared this every time a journalist called me out into the dining room. Compliments felt like daggers and I shied away from any conversation about my food. I still struggle with Imposter Syndrome, but what I do find is that with this weakness, I have the ability to really cheer people on. I am the biggest supporter of my team and always acknowledge their achievements. If I saw someone showing signs of Imposter Syndrome, I would remind them of their accomplishments and tremendous talents. People are quick to undervalue themselves, and we all need some help to remind us why we can and should be confident in our abilities. I have befriended my stress and anxiety toward Imposter Syndrome. I just live with it now.

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