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Jarred Russell brings a new style of leadership to Fruition in Denver

The French Laundry alum works to empower all of his cooks

When Alex Seidel hired chef Jarred Russell to oversee his restaurant Fruition in Denver, he didn't realize he had found the kitchen leader he needed.

"I watched the last chef at Fruition struggle to build a team, and there are lot of great chefs out there that can cook food, but putting the whole package together is hard to find," said Seidel, who opened Fruition in 2007 and has gone through a few head chefs over the years. "The day Jarred came in he was able to build the team."

Part of that has been Russell’s ability to bring the best out of his cooks. For example, the restaurant’s current sous chef also worked for the previous chef but lacked the inspiration to grow and further his career. Then Russell came along, saw that cook’s special qualities, promoted him, and now he’s Russell’s right-hand man.

"Jarred has been here since August and no one has left," Seidel said over the phone. "It's one thing for a chef to put out good food, and another for them to build a foundation that others can continue to grow from and build their career."

Russell said his leadership skills started with playing organized sports such as football, rugby, and baseball in his youth. His role now centers around coaching the kitchen staff to do their best and meet goals, just like leading any team.

"The success of the restaurant depends on the team, and it doesn't matter how good you are or how good you think you are," Russell said. "You have to utilize your team to the max ability, and coach them to get to the next level."

Working for Thomas Keller at The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., also helped him learn how to be a mentor, he said; he came to Fruition after leading that storied restaurant’s butcher team.

"It was a Thomas Keller thing,” Russell said. “He talked about if you are going to be a chef you have to do everything in the kitchen, and I still sweep and mop the floors every day. You have to be willing to do many jobs, never complain, and always have positive thinking, that's been my mantra."

When looking for employees, Russell seeks out people with a similar good attitude and desire to work hard, even when it's just the grunt work. While experience is always nice, Russell said he cares more about the personality rather than how long the potential cook has been in kitchens.

“They don't care if they are moving to the next station, they are willing to do the work and commit to doing things when someone is not looking," said the chef. "I look for people who have the attitude and the desire to learn, and an overall intellectual curiosity and excitement about what we are doing."

Giving the staff ownership over their work is another way Russell builds a solid team. For example, he makes them responsible for ordering the ingredients they need for their particular station.

And he also leads by example.

"At the beginning, I was getting there at 8 a.m. and leaving at 2 a.m., showing the team I am willing to do the work," Russell said. Adding that he avoids complaining to employees.

"If I am going to gripe, I will gripe to Alex [Seidel], and I think for a long time [the Fruition kitchen had] guys who were super negative, and complaining about others and the kitchen."

While Russell may be the boss, he said he's there for the team more than for himself. He makes sure that he listens to his cooks and supports their own cooking projects, which helps build morale while also encouraging the team to work on their skills.

"Really, my job is to mentor these guys and get them to their goals, whether it's in my restaurant group, or their own restaurant, or getting a Michelin star," Russell said. "I am on their team, and I am trying to get these guys to where they want to be."

Seidel said that, before he hired Russell, the Fruition staff didn’t act like a team. Now everyone has a stake in the menu, giving them pride in their work and the desire to keep pushing.

"You can choose to wake up on the right side or the wrong side of bed, and because of challenges, a lot of chefs don't wake up on the right side," Seidel said. "I have never seen Jarred flustered or stressed out, and his composure and calmness translate into the food."

And for that reason, Seidel will do for Russell what the chef is doing for his team, support and lift up, to get him where he wants to go, bringing the power of leadership full circle.

Correction: June 01, 2023
An error in Jarred Russell's original working hours has been corrected.
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