Her suit fits just right, she knows everyone in the room, and you can just tell she’s got it going on!  You wish you could be her or simply wish you knew her secret to success. WOTV 4 Women wants to give you a deeper look at the many power women who are helping make West Michigan a thriving place for women at work.  We’re having them dish the details on everything from work life to home life and what has led to their career success.

25 career questions with Jacqueline Kastelz, Chef at New Hotel Mertens…

Q1 – Describe your job and why you love it.

I have the passion and the privilege to serve my guests and my team on a daily basis in my restaurant, New Hotel Mertens, where we work together to recapture history and present it in through our classical menu. Many of our items have rich lineages that trace back hundreds of years and our team is dedicated to presenting them in a way that honors their roots while keeping them approachable for our guests. I lead a diverse team of individuals with their own unique flairs for culinary style and I help them create consistent and efficient methods for improving their skill sets so they can continue to succeed on their own career paths. My fulfillment in my work stems from teaching others and giving them as much of my own experience as possible.

Q2 – Dig through you purse and tell us three must have items you found and 1 item you were surprised to find.

I don’t actually carry a purse, I wear utility pants daily though and I carry everything that I need with me in my pockets. My most valued and used item is a beat up Swiss Army Fieldmaster knife made by Victorinox. I wear many hats in my workplace and have become the go-to person for fixing items in need of repair. I use my pocketknife with its many accessories to Macgyver everything from coolers and freezers to chairs and door knobs back together. I also carry EOS lip balm and a small bluetooth earpiece, both of which are constantly in and out of my pockets all day as I communicate with my team. I was surprised to find a red life savor, I thought I had eaten them all!

Q3 – When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was a kid I ran through a gauntlet of phases with what I wanted to do as an adult. I had an astronaut phase, a firefighter phase, an equestrian phase, and a pilot phase to name a few. I have always gravitated towards fields that present both physical as well as mental challenges and require endurance. Choosing the life of a Chef has given me daily challenges to overcome in spades.

Q4 – What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

“Learn how to turn off the work static before it consumes you.” I am a hardcore workaholic, and I need to constantly remind myself that I need to take breaks, breathe, and spend time with my loved ones while they’re still here.

Q5 – What’s the job you’ve had (in your lifetime) that still gives you nightmares?

I worked at for a boss who would scream, curse, and throw saute pans at cooks when he was angry. Unfortunately for the staff, he was very controlling and paranoid and therefore he was angry for 80% of our services. Eventually ownership motioned to replace him, but the damage was done. We lost too many good employees due to how the staff was treated. I did manage to learn from this experience though. I told myself that when I worked myself into a leadership position I would never yell at or demoralize my staff in front of their peers. I learned to never lead through fear and control and to instead teach and guide while encouraging growth.

Q6 – What’s the best thing you’ve done to advance your career?  

I’ve developed the habit of being extremely direct and vocalizing exactly what I intend to deliver when I speak. My voice can deaden a cacophony of noise, no matter how loud my work environment is I am still able to effectively lead and issue instructions because I am easy to understand and follow.

Q7 – Flats or heels?

I live in non-slip, steel-toed, black soles but I prefer to waltz in heels whenever I can.

Q8 – Crying at work? Okay or not okay?

I feel like this is a very female-directed question. I don’t believe in denying emotions, but I also don’t believe in displaying distracting emotions in the work environment. Regardless of gender, if a person needs to step away from view and privately express their emotions that is their right as a human being.

Q9 – Work/life balance? How do you make it work?  What time do you “clock out”?

I never fully clock out. A part of me exists in work mode regardless of what I am doing and at times this can be degrading to my mental health. I have 5 apps on my phone dedicated to keeping me constantly in the loop, so if I want actual clarity of mind I literally have to ditch my phone for a couple of hours. Luckily, I have found a wonderful finace who also works in my industry and understands my long hours and 7 day work weeks between my precious days off. I keep myself as healthy and rested as possible so that I can push myself through the long hours and still have energy outside of work to enjoy my free time. I am very active and I eat very clean, I do my best to stay hydrated and I live on protein shakes to keep myself fueled. I treat my body like a machine, and in turn it keeps up with my busy work life as well as all of my activities.

Q10 – Eating lunch at your desk? A do or a don’t?

Ha, eat lunch, as if I have time to stop cooking for the lunch rush to sit down and consume it. Lunch for me is typically a protein shake as I fly around my kitchen. If I had a desk I doubt I would eat there either, I would rather take that time to get outside and get some fresh air instead.

>>> Play video below to learn more about the inspiring West Michigan chef!

Q11 – What makes you grateful?

Time continuously going by makes me grateful for all of the memories and experiences I’ve acquired so far. When I reflect on what I’ve done to become who I am, it makes me grateful for the time I’ve spent investing in myself.

Q12 – What was your biggest blunder in a job interview? What did it teach you?

I forgot my interviewer’s name. I am usually very good with matching names with faces, but I was nervous and his name slipped past me before I could ingrain it in my memory. During an interview I tend to be very conversational and make a point to use my interview’s name to build a relationship while pulling details about them from the surrounding environment that I can use to make a personal connection with them. My entire thought process was askew from the start though, and all for a simple oversight on a name. I didn’t end up getting that job, but to this day I actively listen for names during introductions like my career depends on it.

Q13 – Describe your morning routine.

I like to start my day with music. I will pick a playlist that suits my mood that morning before starting any of my self care routines.

Q14 – Proudest career moment to date.

The proudest moment of my career to date has been becoming the Chef for New Hotel Mertens. I am proud to work in such a rich historical space and serve food that I am proud of.

Q15 – What’s the most important thing in your life right now?

I am getting married July 7 this year at the Fredrick Meijer Gardens. Wedding planning has consumed an excessive amount of my time but the outcome will be well worth it. Jameson and I have been together 5 years, I am very excited to marry my best friend and celebrate our lives joining together.

Q16 – What time did you wake up today?

I woke up at 7:00 AM today, but my daily wake time depends on my schedule. If I am working to support the bakeshop I could be up as early as 2 AM, but if I put myself on the hot line at night I’ll sleep late.

Q17 – What’s the first thing you notice when you meet someone?

I watch for their ability to maintain eye contact and I will make an immediate character assessment based on their handshake. Nothing bothers me more than someone who dodges eye contact or shakes my hand as if handling a dead fish. Eye contact lets me read their confidence level, while their handshake tells me how they will handle conflict.

Q18 – What are you reading right now?

Currently I am working my way through the A Song of Fire and Ice series. My fiance and I are both very into Game of Thrones (our husky’s name is Winterfell) and so far I have loved the books.

Q19 – In a typical day how many emails do you answer?

I always answer all of my emails by the end of the day. I don’t like the nagging feeling of work left undone and if I put them off for the next day I risk forgetting to respond to them.

Q20 – What’s your favorite TV show?

Game of Thrones

Q21 – What’s your favorite spot for a meeting in West Michigan?

I’m a bit biased, but personally I love sitting in the banquette booths in the New Hotel Mertens Cafe. I worked many long weeks nonstop getting that space ready to open for business and being able to sit and work or host a meeting in the space is a reward in and of itself. We have a very unique coffee menu and a huge variety of petite French pastries, its the perfect spot for entertaining a business lunch.

Q22 – What’s your favorite app?

I run my life out of my Outlook app, without it I would forget to do 50% of the tasks that encompass my work day. I have an Apple watch that Outlook syncs with so it gives me constant reminders on where I need to be and when so I can maximize my own efficiency and keep my day as productive as possible.

Q23 – What experience in life made you the most nervous?

Buying our first house was nerve wracking, Jameson and I fell in love with a dream house slightly above our initial price range and spent months in the closing process. Each step felt like climbing a mountain of paperwork, back checking, and redundant approvals. When we finally got the call that everything had gone through and it was just a matter of settling our move-in date with the sellers I broke down in happy tears.

Q24 – What’s one question you always ask in an interview?

I always ask what my candidate considers to be their biggest flaw/weakness and how they actively try to compensate for it. This allows me an insight into how they think and how they problem solve. The usual responses fall along the lines of struggling to multi-task, ask for help, communicate effectively, or organize their space. Every now and then an answer will surprise me though; for example, I had a candidate once tell me they thought their biggest weakness was their lack of formal education. I chose to hire the candidate anyway because they displayed a willingness to learn and they turned out to be very receptive and more ambitious than many of their peers. They may not have realized it, but what they viewed as a weakness really hadn’t held them back at all because they worked so hard to teach themselves and learn from others.

Q25 – What’s the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is seeing a guest enjoying themselves and celebrating here with me and my team. We work incredibly hard to help our guests create good memories and we often get positive feedback that make the long days, sleepless nights, and never ending challenges all worth it in the end. I wouldn’t trade my career for any other, I literally live to create a positive impact and teach others how to succeed as I go.