Transitioning, letting go, and finding my own way

By Leigh Omilinsky
IMG_9381_2I remember being very young and getting a knot in my stomach every time I knew things were getting ready to change. Sometimes it was a graduation, or a friend moving away, or even me deciding it was time to move away. When it was time for things to come to an end, I would often feel paralyzed by the unknown. As I got older, I realized that even though the unknown seemed so terrifying, forward motion is a necessity. And to my own astonishment, I got through it!

And here I am. In an industry that is always changing, always moving, and never stagnant. As someone who was (and maybe still is) so scared of change, I find myself in a world where it’s “normal” to stay at a job for only a year. It’s “normal” to take a few months off and stage somewhere fabulous. The mentality is to get the experience, get the name on your resume, and move on. Quickly. So how do you know when it’s time to change?

I found myself in this situation a few months ago. I was working at the Sofitel. I was a part of a strong team and was lucky enough to work with my best friends. They were supportive of my education in the pastry world and sent me on a life-changing trip to Paris. I was making cheese. (Yes, making and aging cheese) I developed a style as both a chef and a manager. It was fulfilling! So why move on? I wasn’t looking to move on, but an opportunity showed it’s face and I had to look. That opportunity was Nico. Once I realized that this change was really happening, I got that same old feeling of being anxious. And then the “what-ifs” started. What if this isn’t right? What if I’m not ready? What if I can’t do this? But I then realized I would be more upset with myself for not exploring this option than staying comfortable. It was time. I had to let go of my home away from home of almost 5 years. To say there are deep roots there is an understatement.

I’m lucky enough to be friends with Amanda Rockman, the former Pastry Chef of Nico. Anyone who knows her knows that she’s a rock star! So I had big shoes to fill. Since she’s a rock star, she set me up to succeed. And that’s what us pastry family does for each other. I’m lucky.

I inherited a strong pastry team with young and eager people that are so willing to learn. But they came to Nico to work for and learn from Amanda. She and I are very much cut from the same cloth and very dear friends, but we are different. So how do I make this job my own? Start with what I know and love: The macaron.

The macaron and I have a serious love. It’s been a long and rocky road, but it’s love. They are my favorite food, so I was excited to bring my love to a new venue. And then an interesting thing happened. My love and enthusiasm seems to have been contagious and my team is now excited to make them! Ok. I can do this.

The whirlwind of changing a menu is daunting. There are so many things to think about. So walking into an already existing and fully functional beast is a little daunting! It’s like trying to jump on an already moving train while still maintaining my own identity, leading a team, and hopefully growing and learning. What worked in previous restaurants with other chefs may not work in this one. And that thought is terrifying! These are things you don’t think about as a cook. Or, better yet, you think you can do! And guess what? It’s hard.

What made this transition a little bit less scary for me, was knowing that I have been given an opportunity to evolve. I am not, nor should I be, the same person I was 3 years ago. And that evolution can be seen and tasted in my food. So I need to own it. I realize don’t need to look to everyone else to gain the confidence in my work. I need to look within. I need to keep those same standards that I learned for myself throughout the years. I need to be true to me. Just “ok” isn’t good enough. Have I had failures? Absolutely! Have I had to take a dessert and adjust it 50 times before I get it right? Yep! Sure have. But it has made me better. Change is hard.

A wise woman once told me, “the right thing isn’t always the easy thing.” I can take some comfort in that. I am so excited to embark on this next chapter in my pastry career. I’m ready to flex different creative muscles, plant new roots, and see where it takes me.

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