When we first met Linda Dorman, we were intrigued by her work. Linda is a traveling chef who does private chef engagements, market research for food companies, a consultant for food and travel tech start-ups, does food and travel writing, and is also a food tourism program ambassador!
How did you get started as a nomadic chef and food consultant?
When I left my last company in Merger & Acquisition investment and digital innovation, I knew I wanted to change careers and do something I really cared about.
I spent a long time trying to land a “regular” job but didn’t have the right skill set and it would have required a lot of time and money to catch up. I worked with a coach who helped me define not only the type of work I wanted to do and the kind of lifestyle I wanted, but also what I could realistically financially and physically manage.
I decided to pursue my passion for food and travel and enrolled in culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. During my internships, I realized working 10-15 hour shifts every day in a commercial kitchen is physically grueling, emotionally draining and low-pay so I knew I needed to craft my own role.
I wanted to combine my interest in food with travel so I also got my certification as a Culinary Travel Professional and now everything I pursue focuses on moving forward that dual objective.
How do you find cooking jobs while traveling?
Most new chefs do what’s called a “stage”, a short-term (sometimes unpaid) stint in a kitchen to learn from other chefs and gain experience.
Before I started culinary school, I went to Europe for the summer and rented an Airbnb apartment in Barcelona from a chef, and this turned into a stage at one of the top fine dining restaurants the following year. That experience helped me connect with other chefs and I just keep building my network.
Restaurants always need help so finding cooking gigs on the road is not hard, though it helps if you speak the local language because so much of what happens in the kitchen is about good communication and teamwork. When you work in a kitchen, they usually have “family meal” so the staff eats together and gets to know each other better – and this can turn into referrals for other jobs.
In addition to staging, many cook for others as a “private chef”, help out with catering events or work for companies as consultants, project managers or product developers.
Besides being a traveling chef and a food consultant, what else is on your horizon, if any?
I’m also looking at writing a cooking e-book, teaching cooking classes online, organizing food tours and starting a drop-shipping business focused on cooking products.
Basically, I evaluate what digital nomads are doing and see if there’s a way to adapt it. The reality is, while industry job boards list open positions in lots of different countries, there isn’t really one that offers location-independent opportunities so I have to figure out how to create those on my own.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
The toughest decision has been to not give up.
When I started, I drafted a transition plan to radically change my life and while almost everything has gone according to plan so far, it is sometimes tempting to stop and go back to the US, find a steady job with a paycheck and benefits and settle down in one place again.
I’ve realized though that there are no guarantees that turning back will be successful so the best solution is to keep moving forward and see it through.
Now every month I take a few hours to assess my progress, think about what’s working and what’s not, and make adjustments where needed.
What advice would you give yourself 5 years ago?
In 2012, I should have sold everything much sooner than I did and start this journey right away rather than try to hold on to my former lifestyle just because it was comfortable.
Before that, I should have saved more money when I had a steady paycheck!
Your favorite places to travel to?
Right now, it’s all about the food for me. My favorite place to travel to is Lyon, France. It’s like foodie heaven because they take it seriously and really, the whole town is designed around the love and appreciation of good food.
Chefs are pretty adventurous and willing to try just about any food. One of the biggest challenges for new chefs is to define their culinary point-of-view and develop their own voice in the community.
It’s a ton of hard work and if you’re going to work that hard, it’s important to find out exactly what you love about food. That’s how chefs decide whether they’ll focus on a particular type of ethnic cuisine, or specializations like vegan or molecular gastronomy, or a cooking style ranging from casual to fine dining.
In many cases, that means going to where the food originates to taste authentic dishes.
There’s a lot of information on well-known food cities so I’m more interested in discovering the next tier of up-and-coming destinations that are creating unique local food experiences.
I prefer mid-sized walkable towns over big cities or rural areas and like to be close to farmer’s markets, food shops, cafes and public transportation.
Beyond that, finding cities with great food halls and a super low cost of living are my top priorities. Right now, I’m planning a 3-month trip (Spring 2017) to Eastern Europe with Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, Slovenia, Slovakia and Finland on my itinerary.
What advice do you have for those aspiring to work while traveling?
- Plan the first 3 months and research where to go, how you’ll earn money on the road, what logistics need to be sorted out, etc… and write it down as if you’re creating a business plan because, actually you are creating a plan for “Me, Inc.” and this way, you’ll be better prepared.
- You should also join social media groups and talk to others in the same situation – ask for advice and learn from their mistakes. Trust your gut intuition and, if you’re still unsure, discuss it with someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in the outcome – many times, that’s not your family or friends.
- New nomads also need to establish a regular schedule and keep a to-do checklist. It gets really easy to slack off and soon, weeks pass before you realize you’ve accomplished nothing. Set aside time every day to listen to a podcast, read, write, work out or do something that moves you closer to your goal.
- Participate in free or low-cost online classes, challenges or hackathons on a regular basis to learn new skills, but don’t chase every opportunity – you need to focus on a few solid projects first. Once those are running smoothly, you can start to experiment with other ideas.
- Be flexible enough to change up your travel plans if things don’t turn out the way you expect or a fantastic new opportunity comes along. Keep in mind, being a digital nomad is not necessarily a permanent condition. You can set your own pace or stop when it feels right for you.
- Don’t stress out (or lash out) over every little thing – it won’t solve anything, you’ll drive yourself crazy and lose the respect of people around you. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and relax. Repeat a mantra to yourself – mine is “I CHOSE this, I WANT this, I GOT this.” Then calmly find a solution to the problem.
- Most of all, don’t let fear of the unknown stop you. I know so many people who want to do this, but are too scared to step away from their job, their home, their family…and later end up regretting they didn’t try when they had the chance.
Follow Linda on Twitter.