She’s been called many things: athlete, account manager, artist, chef...
“and chicken bitch.” Kate Yates says laughing.
I have no words. So we’ll leave it alone for the time being.
She was born in Granite City, Illinois to a high school science teacher/football coach and an artist. So, it’s only fitting that Kate would juggle between these two disciplines and then add a few more to fill up her plate.
Her mother was a working artist who would critique Kate’s sketches often.
“I would wake up in the middle of the night, look in the mirror and draw a self portrait,” she remembers with a smile. “I’d take it downstairs and leave it on the kitchen counter. In the morning I’d be having breakfast and I’d see that Mom had written a critique of the portrait, ‘work on the nose, think about this differently, this is good etc.’ it was funny.”
Then all of a sudden her Mom turned 180 degrees and decided to go back to school and follow a career in computer systems analysis. This kind of generalist approach to life must have sunk in. From very early on Kate saw that perhaps the secret to life wasn’t just one plate in the air, but multiple plates, spinning quickly with artistic flair.
Sure her Dad was a coach, but he was also a science teacher and he started a landscape business. Plates on top of plates.
“I really wanted to be the quarterback on my Dad’s team,” She says. “But, that couldn’t happen, so I found other stuff.”
She was on the swim team, played field hockey, soccer, softball and basketball.
“You know why I had to quit the basketball team after my freshman year?” she says with a smile that indicates a zinger is on its way. “Because I was short and terrible. But, on a positive note I did learn to spin the ball on my finger while sitting the bench.”
It wasn’t just athletics that she excelled in. The DNA strands of science, art were coiled around athletics as well.
“I went to space camp in sixth grade.” She recalls. “I loved all the sciences, but I suck at math so my hopes of being an astronaut was shattered.” However, NASA’s loss was gastronomy’s gain.
Oh, right. In addition to the long list of things Kate was doing in high school, she also started cooking when she was four.
It’s honestly exhausting to add up all of the things Kate excels at.
“My family always cooked. We didn’t eat a lot of fast food.” She says with a grin. “But, it was my Grandfather Jake, a tough son of a gun marine who really got me into French cooking.”
Jake bought a farm in Illinois, not a working farm, but 150 acres where he and Kate spent time together exploring the woods and working in the garden - often making lunch in the wood burning oven in the barn. Back home in the kitchen, they created incredible French feasts together. The smell of bread hung in the air, as he would playfully yell at her “Mise en Place, Yatesy” — French for putting everything in its place. The sun gleamed off the copper pans as meat browned in butter and sauces bubbled in pots. It was idyllic to say the least.
In high school, art was her thing but in college food became her visual expression—charcoal became delicious savory proteins, ink transformed into butter. The paint became sauces.
“What can I say? The Food Network came on and it changed everything.” She says.
With all of this passion and training you’d be nuts not to ask, why is Kate choosing to be an account manager staring at spreadsheets, agonizing over briefs, and searching for insights over information?
“How many chefs do you know?” She asks. I say none. “Exactly. They’re fucking working all the time!”
“In the book Kitchen Confidential, the chapter called ‘A Day In The Life’ Anthony Bourdain paints a picture on just how terrible it is to be a chef.” She says. “It solidified my decision to not be a chef. Do I really want to spend 24/7 back there? How long is it sustainable to do that?”
So that’s that. Right?
While balancing her Account manager duties she also hosts pairing dinners. Through a chance meeting with a restaurant owner, Kate was given the opportunity to cook for patrons four to five times a year.
Seriously Kate. Drop a fucking plate once. Just once.
“I come up with a menu with four or six courses if it’s a special event. I do them once a quarter.” She says. “As long as it doesn’t detract from my every day work, I’m happy. I scratch that itch while reinforcing the idea that I made the right decision to do what I’m doing with account service. I always say at the end of the evening, that was fun, but now I’m going back to my real job.”
So, uh...what’s a chicken bitch?
Well, when Kate isn’t doing the account service thing. And she’s not preparing a four to six course meal four to five times a year she’s a competitive grill master.
Seriously? Better add another plate to the constellation of china swirling above her head.
“Our team consists of a group of attorneys that were friends of friends and me.” She says a little bashfully. “We’re called Dewey, Smoke ‘em and Howe. Get it?”
She explains that since she was relatively new on the team it was her job to do the chicken. And the name just stuck.
“Do you know how many chickens you have to cook in order to get six perfect pieces to turn in?” She says rolling her eyes. “The work is the worst. You’ve got to scrape the skins, cut and trim the bones — it’s an unbelievable labor of love. And as competitive as I am, I’m getting better every year but it’s making me nuts! Last year I finished 15th out of 70 but I’m not going to be happy until we finish in the top ten so I can hear them call out our stupid team name.”
But, one has to ask if there’s a parallel between cooking and what she does at Paradowski.
“Oh yeah. I see it broken down into 3 ways,” she says smiling as if she could give you just one answer.
“One is the artistic nature of the two – no one got into this field because they love the artistic nature of spreadsheets – it’s because we all have something inherently creative in us…the ‘that’s amazing, but what if we did it this way’. I approach all of the challenges in the office that way.”
“There’s the Mise en Place component – getting everything in its place. Understanding and coordinating a multi course dinner is incredibly taxing and stressful — making sure that this happens on this day, so you can make this happen the next day. What’s made me successful in cooking has made me successful here, being organized and thinking ahead.”
She pauses and says,
“I like to make people happy. What makes people happy more than feeding them or producing an amazing result, solving their challenge — making them feel serviced?
There’s a term for people with multiple skills, passions and gifts and it isn’t chicken bitch…it’s Renaissance woman. Kate manages to keep all the plates in the air, spinning them effortlessly with panache, and makes all of us feel lazy.
Thanks a ton Kate.