Lauren Kolb, graduate of the University’s law school, never thought she’d be a chef at Red Herring, a vegan restaurant in Urbana.
“If life has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t know where I’m gonna be in two years,” Kolb said. “I haven’t had a sense of what I wanted to be or what I had a passion for. Obviously when I was in law school, I thought I was gonna do that.”
As Kolb studied law, she realized it became too complex in such a way that the content she was learning bothered her. She needed a break from that world and found herself at Red Herring. She had been a frequent customer of the restaurant. Although she did not know anything about cooking, she took a job at this non-profit restaurant.
“Keep yourself open to opportunities,” Kolb said. “I had no idea I would end up here right now. It’s amazing to me. It’s beautiful.”
Kolb is currently a chef and manager at Red Herring. Many of the workers share the load, but Kolb’s primary duties involve cooking, inventory, menu planning and event planning.
Many of her coworkers took a similar path and found themselves at Red Herring when they were not planning on it. Paula Chmiel is a dessert manager and line cook who has worked at the restaurant for about four years.
After receiving her degree in interdisciplinary health from the University, she lived in Philadelphia, but she found herself back in Illinois because she missed her family.
“I’ve had all kinds of plans and non-plans,” Chmiel said. “I didn’t for sure decide what I wanted to do, so for the time being I wanted to work with vegan food.”
Kolb gives projects to different workers, and her leadership is what makes Red Herring function in a respectful manner, Chmiel said.
“She is really good at delegating roles in a non-bossy way. I think it’s proof that as a manager you don’t have to be bossy,” Chmiel said. “I feel like most people here are happier to do the tasks because she is the way she is. Everyone is happy to do something that she wants them to do.”
Even when coming up with recipes, Kolb tries not to use products, such as fake meat, and opts to use wholesome ingredients. For the cultural dinners on Wednesdays, she does research, goes out to international markets and asks for advice to make the dishes as authentic as possible.
Jenny Goodwine is a line cook with a degree in social work who graduated at the University at the same time as Chmiel in 2012. After graduation, she stayed in town to work for a local non-profit that did work related to affordable access to health care. She then moved to Seattle to do more social work in relation to the prison system for a non-profit.
Goodwine used to live with Kolb in a housing co-op and was inspired by her vegan cooking. She moved back to Illinois to be with her family. Now, she works with Kolb at the Red Herring and prepares ingredients for the restaurant.
“Lauren is very chill. That is the word that comes to mind,” Goodwine said. “She is very easy-going and flexible, very supportive and encouraging. I would ask something like ‘Lauren, do you want the potatoes cubed this size or this size?’ then she would laugh and say, ‘They’re both great, Jenny.’”
Many of the employees at Red Herring appreciate the people and management. They are a non-profit restaurant that serves the community, but they are also among respectful workers who give the whole team creative liberties.
“This place is so respectful and so power-with and not power-over,” Goodwine said.
There are many ways students could get involved, such as cooking classes offered by the restaurant. Emmett Silver, the financial manager at Red Herring, has a degree in nutrition and helps with the classes. Volunteer opportunities follow an open-door policy; anyone can follow their social media or drop by to learn more about the opportunities.
Kolb also emphasized Red Herring’s role as a place where people can feel at home and be comfortable in a creative space for the community.
“If anyone is looking for something that we can provide, whether it’s a space for a student group meeting, activists or artists, we want to be an open space for those people, so just reach out if there is something we can do to help,” Kolb said.
Although even two years ago she had completely different plans for her future, she found a new life philosophy while working at Red Herring: if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.
“This job has taught me the basics of what is required to be happy. Nutritious food, good company, people that trust each other,” Kolb said. “Take your time to figure out what makes you happy and learning what you need to be happy and being okay with that.”
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