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“Why a great chef must first learn how to be a great leader” With Chef Michael Sabrin

If you want to be a chef, you also must know how to lead people. I have studied leadership from my youth while I was getting my Eagle Scout though all my schooling. I studied organizational leadership at J&W and corporate leadership at UGA. You need to decide what kind of leader you want to […]


If you want to be a chef, you also must know how to lead people. I have studied leadership from my youth while I was getting my Eagle Scout though all my schooling. I studied organizational leadership at J&W and corporate leadership at UGA. You need to decide what kind of leader you want to be and evolve your leadership style and skills over time. An old chef friend of mine and I have spent countless hour just talking about leadership in food and it come to a simple phrase we would always say: Teach, Lead, and Inspire though food. Never stop inspiring those around you to greatness and always surround yourself with people that know things you do not know.


I had the pleasure to interview Chef Michael Sabrin, Snap Kitchen Executive Research & Development Chef. Michael grew up in the Atlanta area and recently moved to Austin from Nashville. Real food has always been a passion of his and he knew he wanted to be a chef when he was asked what he’d like to be when he grew up in his first grade class. He has been working in the food industry professionally for 22 years, since he was 15 years old. Sabrin earned two degrees in Culinary Arts and one in Culinary Nutrition from Johnson and Wales University in Providence. After working for a variety of restaurants in the U.S. he soon realized he wanted a deeper understanding of food chemistry and nutrition. He returned to school and earned a Master’s Degree in Food and Nutrition Science from the University of Georgia. While at UGA, he published research on soy milk replacement in baked goods and studied ingredient replacement in recipe formulation. Snap Kitchen is a natural fit for his career as Sabrin believes food embodies nourishment of body, soul, and the connection to others. Sharing similar passions with Snap Kitchen and working alongside their RD is exciting to have the opportunity to develop healthy comfort food that tastes awesome and is balanced in nutrition.


Thank you so much for joining us. What inspired you to open a restaurant?

The multifaceted levels of food are what drew me to become a Chef. When I was in elementary school I wanted to be a scientist at first, then I wanted to be a chef. When I was older I realized they could be one in the same. Food is a combination of art, chemistry, biology, and medicine. A chef must also have leadership skills, business prowess, and possess strong drive and passion. The depths of food as a business and artform are what have kept me in the industry. My passion for food has been fueled by the never-ending drive to learn more about all areas of one of the largest industries in the world.

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

I have worked though many facets of the industry in the last 22 years: Top spas, hotels, and resorts, James Beard award winning chefs, free-lance catering and restaurants in the Hamptons, and in leadership rolls running award winning restaurants and companies around the country. I also have 3 degrees in culinary and nutrition from Johnson and Wales University and a master’s degree in food and nutrition science from the University of Georgia. I have seen the industry dramatically evolve from when I started working in restaurants when I was 15. Working in restaurants and with food has allowed me to travel the world and country. I have been able to meet and work with people from around the world and from all walks of life. The diversity and people of our industry are one of my favorite things about working with food. The friendships and comradery are one of the best results of the journey I continue to have in this industry.

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

I have tried not to specialize in one style of cuisine, because I feel like it would limit myself and not allow me to grow and learn as much as I can. I enjoy exploring all cultures and food from around the world and in the US. The similarities and differences of cultures and regions is incredibly interesting. Historical influence of other cultures on different countries cuisine and technique is another area I enjoy exploring. I do feel like my spice blending and sauces are my greatest strength.

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

When I started as a Chef, I never imagined I would be gathering acorns around the campus of the University of Georgia and processing them into flour to be used in cookies. As part of my thesis work we were looking into novel flours to be used to enhance the nutritional benefit of baked goods. Not much research has been done on acorns, so we referenced papers written on Native Americans to find processing techniques. Acorns were a main staple of certain Native American diets and have great health benefits due to high phenolic content. We made flour out of acorns from campus using the same techniques as the Native Americans and made cookies that had the same nutritional benefit as walnuts. People thought they tasted pretty good in the consumer panels we ran too.

What is your definition of success?

I define success in terms of achieving goals that bring me and my family happiness. I have found in life the things that make me the happiest and I pursue those ideas until I achieve those goals. There are little things and larger scale ideas that make me fell successful. Creating food with culinary integrity, helping people around me be stronger and be happy, being involved and influential in running a business, being a great father and husband, and being involved in my community are some of the ideas that I have found that make me happy and feel successful. They are not easy to achieve all the time and require me to be intentional in my actions and career choices.

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

The only real failure is if you quit a goal that will make you happy. If do not achieve a goal, then you are just learning how to be successful for when you try again. I think you should only quit something if it allows you to achieve a goal for success. I think we all have opportunities we learn from every day that make us grow and become more successful. One of the biggest opportunities I had when I was when I was a young chef. I was running a restaurant in New York working 100+ hours a week. I was making great money and getting solid reviews, but I was not happy. The job forced me to look at what I really wanted in life to be successful and what I thought success really was to me. From there I got my Master’s in Food and Nutrition, got into R&D, and subsequently met my wife. The job where I did not find success and happiness led me to find success and happiness in my subsequent career decisions.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

I am the new Chef at Snap Kitchen. Everything is a new project. I have been tasked with taking the food to the next level. I will be creating lots of new dishes to which people can relate and get excited about. I will also be looking at current recipes to see if we can adjust ingredients or procedures increase flavor and quality.

What advice do you have for aspiring restauranteurs or chefs?

Nothing is a substitute for hard work and experience. Stay humble and keep your eyes and ears open for ideas from all around you. Never stop learning.

What is the key to creating the perfect dish?

Passion. The key ingredient is passion. It could be a home cooked meal or from the top chefs in the world. If you have passion it translates to the food to help create the perfect dish.

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?

Everyone can relate to food in one way or another. We all must eat to live. We all have food that make us nostalgic for different times and people in our life. People feel connected when they talk about food with each other. It is interesting too that on a culinary subculture level, chefs have this band of brothers/sisters sentiment toward each other despite being in competition with each other. Chefs all feel connected through the trenches of kitchens and the grind of the job in the belly of operations.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I became a restauranteur/chef” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. You will work more than you think you will because of your passion.

My first Executive Chef job when I was 23 was in Augusta Georgia. I was at the restaurant day in and day out. I worked my days off and went in to check on things and work when the restaurant was closed. You will find yourself doing the same things. When you are passionate about food you never stop thinking about it. It can become an obsession and drive that is hard to manage and hard for those around you to understand.

2. It is extremely competitive.

Every job I have had in the food business has been extremely competitive. Competitive not just between restaurants but inside of the place you work as well. I would compare it to a professional sports team. If you are not the best at your position, then you will be replaced by someone who will work harder and do better than you. The higher up and higher caliber establishment you work the more this rings true. There is always someone that wants your position, and the higher you go the harder work is.

3. Travel.

Travel as much as you can. This industry affords us great freedom to go wherever you want and always have a job to pay your bills. Meet people and experience cultures with which you are not familiar. You will be stronger and wiser in the future for it. I got to travel through Europe while getting an Advanced European Wine Certificate. We tried over 600 wines in a month and learned from experts in all the European countries. We traveled through the regions and experienced food, wine, and culture that shaped me as a chef. Those chefs that were traveling with me and I still talk about the experiences we had on that journey.

4. Learn how to be a leader.

If you want to be a chef, you also must know how to lead people. I have studied leadership from my youth while I was getting my Eagle Scout though all my schooling. I studied organizational leadership at J&W and corporate leadership at UGA. You need to decide what kind of leader you want to be and evolve your leadership style and skills over time. An old chef friend of mine and I have spent countless hour just talking about leadership in food and it come to a simple phrase we would always say: Teach, Lead, and Inspire though food. Never stop inspiring those around you to greatness and always surround yourself with people that know things you do not know.

5. Never Quit.

This is a hard business. You will work twice as many hours as your non-chef friends and question what you have gotten into in food. It is worth every second. The reward is tremendous and great. I have thought many times about leaving the industry, but my heart would never let me go. If I had quit, I would not be here now. I would not be happy and successful. You will never achieve what you want if you give up. Push though, learn from mistakes and missteps, drive and grind until you get what you want. You will be stronger and smarter for it. There is nothing in life that is impossible. Goals may take longer to achieve than planned, but nothing is unattainable.

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.

I would want to change the way Americans eat. I would want real food made with integrity more available and accessible to people across the country. If more people just ate real food, then I think we would see a dramatic shift in the health of our country.

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?

Not a person but a place and people. I would want to cook at the James Beard house for the people running the James Beard Foundation. They are some awesome folks in the organization and I would want to cook for them out of appreciation for what they are doing in the culinary world.

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