Karen V Davison is a Texan through and through. She was born in Dallas, Texas, and still lives there today. From a young age, she was interested in food, always helping her parents and grandparents in the kitchen.
When it came time to decide what she wanted to study after high school, she knew there was only one track for her: culinary school. Wishing to be close to home, Karen V Davison enrolled at The Culinary School of Fort Worth, a nationally accredited culinary institution. It was here that she took her first step towards becoming a professional chef. Upon graduating, she got her first job at a seafood restaurant in Dallas. Although it wasn’t her dream job, she stuck it out and gained valuable experience.
Since then, Karen V Davison has worked her way up the ladder, serving as an associate chef, a sous chef, and most recently, as a head chef at some of the finest dining establishments in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. On the side, Karen V Davison is also a successful culinary blogger, who shares recipes and cooking tips on her website and social media.
Tell us a little about your industry and why you chose to be a professional chef.
For me, being a professional chef was always and is to this day my passion. Most chefs will tell you they love food, which I do too. But it’s also about the creative aspects of the industry for me. I love following different food trends, coming up with unique flavor combinations that will surprise people, and creating a dining experience that is exceptional from start to finish. Being a chef is more than just cooking food well, it’s about having a sense of which flavors, textures, and aromas will pair well together and coming up with a way to turn these ideas into a reality.
What surprised you the most when you started your career, what lessons did you learn?
The culinary industry is exciting, but also very challenging in a lot of ways. First off, it’s extremely competitive, so as a young chef you really have to be able to differentiate yourself from others and impress your superiors. One of the biggest lessons I learned was that success wasn’t going to come overnight. When I first graduated from The Culinary School of Fort Worth, I almost assumed that I would find a job immediately and be a head chef within a few years. Unfortunately, this just isn’t how it works even when you’re talented. You need to put in the time, gain experience in a variety of different restaurants, network, and slowly, gradually work your way up in the industry.
What is one piece of advice you would give someone starting in your industry?
My one piece of advice to those starting out in the industry would be to get experience. It doesn’t matter at what restaurant, whether it’s a fast food restaurant, a tourist trap, or a fine dining restaurant in New York City. Just take a job in a kitchen and get some experience working with a variety of different chefs and different types of cuisine. This will help you get a better sense of the kind of chef you want to be.
If you could change anything about your industry what would it be and why?
I truly love everything about being a professional chef, however, I know the industry is notorious for the hours that we work. Part of being in the business means long days and late nights. It’s just the reality of the hospitality industry as a whole. But sometimes it is exhausting, especially for newer chefs who aren’t used to the long work days and being on their feet for hours on end.
How would your colleagues describe you?
I think my colleagues would describe me as energetic, creative, and funny, but also firm (especially when I’m in the kitchen). I’m usually a ball of energy at work, partly because cooking really is my passion and I am excited to go to work every single day. However, it’s impossible not to get stressed when you have a restaurant full of people and you’re behind on orders or something goes wrong in the kitchen, so at times as the boss, I have to be a little bit tough or strict. There are definitely two sides to me in the kitchen that I think all of my colleagues have seen at this point.
How do you maintain a solid work-life balance?
As a chef, it took a lot of time for me to come up with a way to develop some sort of work-life balance routine, but I finally figured it out. For me, it’s about enjoying and being present in the time that I do have off work. Early on in my career, I would obsess over every aspect of the menu and restaurant I was working at, even when I wasn’t at work. This wasn’t healthy and left me way more exhausted day after day. Finally, I learned that to live a happier life where I actually had energy, I needed to put my mind at ease and engage in activities that helped me relax and de-stress. These activities include doing hot yoga, going on long bike rides in Dallas, and taking my dog Pepper to my local dog park.
What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?
Finding inspiration can be very difficult at times. When I’m in the zone, I consider myself to be a very creative and inventive person. But there are times when I really struggle to get inspired and connect with that creative side of myself. When I’m trying to come up with a new menu for my restaurant, which we do at least four times a year, sometimes the ideas just flow out of me and other times I get totally stuck. I’ve learned over the years to ask for help. I used to take it all on myself, but letting others into the process really works wonders when it comes to getting the creative juices flowing. There’s almost nothing that a good brainstorming session with my team can’t fix.
What does success look like to you?
This might sound cheesy, but success really does come from within. Practically my whole life my goal was to be a head chef. When I finally became a head chef, it was an incredible feeling, yet it wasn’t everything I had dreamed it would be. At that point, I still had work to do in my personal life that was preventing me from enjoying that moment as much as I could have. So, in my opinion, having a well-rounded life that you’re happy in and proud of is the best measure of success.