Field trips are part of the monthly routine for Reynolds Culinary Director Zouhair Bellout. He goes out to rural areas to locate the best produce and into Atlanta for the best spices. In late 2020 he took trips much further afield to find something of greater impact: talent. Those trips to Switzerland and Jamaica would open a pipeline for up-and-coming interns to come from around the world and enter the kitchens of Reynolds.

“I’ve been in their shoes,” says Zouhair, remembering how his career began as an intern at Disney’s globally-inspired Epcot restaurants. “The path of an internship is a huge step for them and a huge win for us.”

Zouhair’s wife, Jessica, is the recruiting manager for the intern program. On a quiet weekday morning, the two of them sit down at Richland Pointe to detail some of those wins when the kitchen door opens. The culinary equivalent of a parade of Olympians streams into the dining area, representing a world of flavors, ideas, and gratitude.

Why would an intern want to train at Reynolds for 12 months instead of going to New York, Miami, or Los Angeles?

Z: They mention three reasons. One, they can work in seven different restaurants, each with its own theme and management style, in one safe community. Two, we have a culturally diverse brigade: a sushi chef from Asia, a cook from Kenya, a chef from Jamaica, and I’m from Morocco. And three, the community is peaceful. They don’t have to come to a new country and navigate hectic city life. The less they have to worry about, the more they can focus on honing their craft.

J: He’s too humble to say it, so I will. When Zouhair leads workshops in Switzerland and Jamaica, the students tell their advisors, “That’s the kind of mentor I want.” He has a long list of credentials, he’s incredibly talented, and he isn’t at all intimidating.

That’s why they choose you. Why do you choose them?

Z: There’s so much demand to come to Reynolds that we can only select one in five applicants. I’m not looking for experience or for someone to showcase their skill. We can teach that. But we can’t teach passion. Passion is the bond between the team, the food, and the dining experience.

J: One recent applicant said during an interview, “I don’t know as much as some others, but I want to learn everything.” You could hear the passion in his voice. That’s what we want.

Where do the interns go from here?

Z: A lot of them want to return to their home countries and open restaurants or improve a family restaurant. Cooking at the highest level is a series of challenges. They learn to work through them here. And they leave with confidence.

They all have different cultural approaches to cooking. How do you make that work?

Z: I want them to share their ideas. A while back, I was exploring ways to create the best version of Vada Pav — it’s like a potato slider in India. One of our interns from India helped me understand how his grandmother captured the best flavor from a blend of spices. Those tips made the dish better than I expected.

Why do all the interns look so happy?

J: That’s a common state of mind at Reynolds. Zouhair and I can relate to it.

Z: When I started working here, I told Jessica how the Members and staff made me feel welcome. Everyone is genuinely interested in each other as a person, not just as someone who cooks, and that makes it easy to be happy.

J: I’d rather eat food prepared by happy people, wouldn’t you?

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