The Culinistas Dish on Their Lessons Learned in Business
January 9, 2023
Jill is a hospitality expert with a global perspective and has over a decade of experience as a private chef, caterer, cookbook author and restaurant veteran. In addition to running the v1 of The Culinistas, Jill has written four cookbooks, including “Better on Toast” (Harper Collins, 2015) and “Party Like a Culinista” (Lake Isle Press, 2011), as well as international cookbook titles in Madagascar and India.

Her writing has been featured in Food & Wine, Men’s Journal, The Huffington Post, TimeOut and National Geographic. She ran the kitchen at Villa Lena, an artists residency and hotel, in Tuscany in 2015 and has lived in Japan, Sweden, Italy, and India to name a few for culinary research. She gleans inspiration making porcelain plates, drying bottarga, surfing, playing tennis, and saying yes to most meals around the world in pursuit of culinary connection. Jill is a Barnard graduate and was named one of Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 with Danny Meyer saying: “In whatever incarnation tomorrow’s generation has its Martha Stewart-like role, Jill Donenfeld is likely to play it.”


Tiana spent five years as an investor and advisor at J.P. Morgan, watching firsthand as busy mothers struggled to get healthy, delicious meals on the table for their families. She worked closely with entrepreneurs to provide them with creative financial solutions, making them feel empowered when it came to managing their personal wealth. In this role she saw how a large institution could be tailored to each clients needs, embracing the convergence of high touch growth and establishing her business philosophy around personalized customer service at scale. Prior to J.P. Morgan, she spent a summer cooking at the Castello di Vicarello in Tuscany, assisted on the set of Giada at Home and contributed to Food Network Magazine. She reads an autobiography and business book every month and is an avid tennis player. She graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University, received a diploma in Restaurant Entrepreneurship from New York University and was named one of Inc Magazine's 30 Under 30 Rising Stars.

Jill, you started the Culinistas from your business as a personal chef. This feels like a revolutionary idea in 2006. What helped you to make the jump from private chef to CEO?

In 2006, I graduated from Barnard (and had been working as a chef during school) & knew I could make a larger impact in the culinary community by helping other chefs find work in homes, providing an alternative to working in restaurants, which is something I had dabbled in but knew was not for me.

Jill, as your company has morphed in time, what have been your major learnings about scaling and transition?

The number one key to the success of this business has been the perfect business partner finding me.

We focus on different aspects of the business yet have a shared vision for where we are headed and, most importantly, shared values when it comes to what we want to nurture and why.

Tiana, you came to the company in 2017 after The Culinistas had been in business for eleven years, what drew you to this project?

I always knew I’d end up blending my passion for food and business and when I met Jill, I was working at J.P. Morgan and watching firsthand, busy mothers struggling to get healthy, delicious meals on the table for their families. The service was clearly needed, and if we could combine high-tech with high-touch service, we could provide in-home chef services at scale.

Tiana, how did you overcome the hurdles of transforming an established business?

The struggle for any business is thinking big but implementing incrementally. Jill and I have a vision, but committing to each iteration, instead of focusing solely on the end product, remains the biggest challenge.

What have been your biggest lessons in team building as you have grown the company together?

Jill: Building the right team comes from an alchemy between knowing exactly what is needed as well as leveraging the skills & interests of each person on the team.

Tiana: Learning what motivates each person to be invested in the job & dedicated to the mission of the company.

What’s your favorite Culinistas dish? :)

Jill: Fresh Sardines with fennel & grapefruit

Tiana: Calabrian Cauliflower!

What is one thing you can’t live without?

Jill: Libraries

Tiana: My boys

What’s one piece of advice that you chose not to follow, and are happy you ignored?

Jill: Clean out your closet.

Tiana: Better safe than sorry.



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