Jennifer Etzkin O’Brien is the Culinary Director for the Marriott Luxury brands, global team and also leads the “Women of F&B” program for Marriott. We spoke to her about how she began her career in the industry, how to create an amazing experience for every guest, and how her work with “Women of F&B” is changing the lives and careers of women in the hospitality and culinary fields.
You have a lot of history and experience working as a chef and culinarian. How did you get into the culinary world? Have you always loved food and cooking?
After attending an arts conservatory to pursue a career in classical acting, I moved to Manhattan to pursue a career on the stage. It didn’t take long to see this path wasn’t my bag and I changed course to follow my other passion, food. With roots in New Orleans and in the Jewish traditions of my father’s family, food was always a passion and focus in my life. Having worked in restaurants since I was 15, this was a natural fit.
How did your experience working in fine dining restaurants translate to the larger scale of hotel dining?
The level of excellence and consistency required in a Michelin star restaurant is an indispensable tool when you approach serving guests on an even larger scale. Everything you do is only amplified.
You currently work for Marriott luxury brands, working on the on enhancement of the F&B experience for guests. What are the biggest challenges you run into on the day to day? What does an ideal guest experience look like for you?
The larger the company and the more reach you have, the greater your responsibility becomes and the more people you can effect. For this reason, more obstacles, considerations and challenges arise as you push to move forward. Sometimes this can be frustrating, but in the end, all the more rewarding. An ideal guest experience is immersive and harmonious. It’s never just about food, all the pieces should come together as a whole.
Part of your work also includes leading Marriott’s “Women of F&B” program – which has a mandate to “inspire, connect, and elevate women in Marriott food and beverage careers.” Can you tell us a little bit about the work you do for the program and how you are helping pursue this mission?
We have built a global community of women in the Food and Beverage disciplines to form a network for growth and development. Within this group, we have collected insights into what we can do better, broadened awareness to the highest levels of leadership, and collected tools and resources to help these women build their careers.
Focusing on and advocating for women in the workplace is a hot topic and thankfully more popular than ever. However, sometimes it’s seen as a trend to capitalize on or simply a box to check. What sort of battles are you still fighting to make things better for women in the industry – especially one that is still often male dominated?
The fact that women are well represented at the line level and dramatically fall out at higher levels of leadership is a huge focus for us. We work to get the tools for growth into the hands of those in the background and to raise awareness of the underutilized talent to those in positions of influence.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of the work you do with the Marriott luxury tier?
Our platform to support and inspire our properties is incredibly broad. I am honored to work with and collaborate with incredibly talented chefs from all over the world on a daily basis.
Over the course of your culinary career, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
“Nothing to it but to do it”. But then again, I think my mom taught me that.
Do you have any advice for young chefs who are looking to take their cooking and their career to the next level?
Take a moment to reflect on what you want your life to look like. Use this knowledge to inform the next move in your career. You might be surprised where you end up.