Joshua Black has been working in kitchens since he was a teenager.
At age 15 he got a job as a dishwasher, and then at 16 he left high school to work full time in kitchens.
“Honestly, at the time, I relished the adult environment I was surrounded by and how much I was earning in comparison to my high school friend group,” said Black.
“Not much later I’d come to fall in love with the creativity, the passion and the comradery of the kitchen environment, the opportunities to learn new skills, work with my hands and see direct results from hard work to finished product.”
Because his father was in the Royal Marines, Black has lived in at least four different countries. “I was born in Germany, and lived in England until about age 11 and then in New Zealand.”
In 2017, he moved to the U.S.
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Black was recently named the executive chef at ALBA – River Terrace Inn in central Napa.
1. What was your childhood ambition?
I always wanted to be an inventor, to create new things that hadn’t been considered before. I started my first business when I was 15 with a group of high school friends (aided by my finance teacher) in which we designed and produced headphone accessories for portable music players like the iPod shuffle.
2. What was your first job?
My first job was in Auckland, New Zealand. I actually took two jobs at the same time, in the mornings before school I would deliver newspapers to the local area and then after school I worked as a dishwasher in a (unbeknownst to be me at the time) very successful restaurant.
3. What’s the worst job you ever had?
I did a very brief stint as a computer networker, writing code a for dairy farm machinery. After having experienced the, comparatively, wild and free hospitality industry, sitting at a desk in front of a computer had absolutely no appeal to me.
4. What is the biggest challenge the hospitality industry has faced?
Obviously, COVID had the largest impact on the hospitality industry I’ve ever experienced. Business practices that weren’t considered particularly sustainable pre-COVID were amplified 100-fold. Fair wages and working conditions for staffing; from the restaurant staff, to the delivery drivers, the farmers, butchers, fishermen, warehouse workers, sales reps, the entire enormous ecosystem required to bring food from “farm-to-table.”
The hospitality industry did a hard-reset, losing many veteran and skilled staff, producing a period of the highest pricing ever seen, with some of the lowest quality offered. From my perspective, in the past 12 months, young, motivated workers have started to enter into the restaurants and, with training, I hope to see the industry back to full strength again within the next three years.
5. Who do you most admire in the business world?
Martin Harrap was, and continues to be, my chef mentor since I was 18 years old. He teaches ethical business practices both through product sourcing and staffing. He’s dedicated his entire life to teaching and growing future leaders in the hospitality industry and has made a large impact on the standards of hospitality in New Zealand and abroad.
6. What’s one thing Napa could do to help local business?
This is an easy one: support your local businesses! Not just with your wallets (though that is very helpful), but by offering your opinions and feedback. If unhappy with a service or product received, communicate why and give that business a chance to show that they value your input and custom. If you enjoy it, talk about it! Tell your community, write reviews online, spread the word as there are many hidden gems in the valley that deserve to be raved about.
7. If you could change one thing in the hospitality industry, what would it be?
I would introduce a clear progression path within the restaurant industry from working within the operation aspect of industry through to the administration side. Very often do cooks/bartenders/servers find themselves at an age where the physical demands of the job are no longer feasible and they’re left without many serviceable skills to translate to other industries.
I would offer greater training opportunities to keep these veterans in the industry, utilizing their experience in consulting, ordering, sales, finance and many of the other roles involved in operating a hospitality business successfully.
8. What’s your go-to meal when you’re not working?
I like homemade pasta; and we have a big garden at home and pick loads of herbs and keep it pretty fresh.
9. What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
I’m a huge nerd! From hosting weekly board game nights, to spending my free time reading textbooks about all the aspects of the hospitality industry. I have multitudes of industry-based hobbies, gardening, coffee, wine, spirits, mushroom cultivation. I’m addicted to learning new skills.
10. What is one thing you hope to accomplish in your lifetime that you haven’t yet?
I’ve been dreaming of opening up a small coffee truck business with my partner for many years now. As soon as the time is right, I would like to make that dream a reality.
Info: River Terrace Inn is located at 1600 Soscol Ave., riverterraceinn.com