Here’s One Way to Boost Your Agency’s Foodie Culture: Hire a Staff Chef

Eating is all part of the creative process

Restaurant consultant and pastry chef Heather Carlucci followed a typical career path for an aspiring chef: She attended culinary school, opened and ran New York Indian restaurant Lassi, appeared on Good Morning America and Iron Chef, and developed a line of locally produced honeys and maple syrups.

Then, two and a half years ago, Carlucci made an uncharacteristic career move. She joined independent ad agency Mother New York as the shop's food consultant and in-house chef.

Michael Ian Kaye, Mother's executive creative director and founder of Mother Design, had no specific job description in mind when he hired Carlucci. But as he noticed food becoming a central part of people's lives, he wanted to develop a food culture at the agency. Kaye also wanted to eliminate junk food in the office and develop stronger relationships with food vendors. Carlucci, a restaurant consultant after hours, was the perfect fit. 

Carlucci, who spent years working in greasy restaurant kitchens, didn't know what to expect on her first day at Mother. The agency had a pantry with the essentials, and also came decorated with a red telephone box, a section of high school-style bleachers and a taxidermy bear. 

"Walking in here in the beginning was like walking onto another planet," Carlucci told Adweek.

In her short time at the agency, Carlucci has become an asset to the culture and the business, not to mention the staff's taste buds.

"We can use Heather as a tool when we're working on businesses that are in proximity to food and beverage," Kaye told Adweek. "Stella, for example, has a huge relationship with the food community, and Heather, through her contacts, has been able to enlighten us in areas where we might not be as educated. Her connections can impact our business." 

She once lent her culinary prowess to a pitch for Bertolli.

As Mother proposed five potential TV spots to the client, Carlucci presented five dishes, made with Bertolli products, that tied into each spot. In one spot there was a cake with Vince Lombardi's face on it, so naturally Carlucci served that very cake.

"I don't think any other job would allow me to do that," Carlucci told Adweek. 

A major accomplishment—and arguably, one of Carlucci's greatest contributions to Mother—is her idea for the legendary dinner parties the agency throws in its spacious 11th Avenue lobby.

Carlucci wanted to create a space for open conversations on a single topic, from fashion to science to business. So every few months, Mother picks a topic, invites people from every part of that industry, two of its own employees, and often a client. The dinners can inform creative campaigns down the line. 

"I thought if we do a dinner, we can get creatives from all over to talk about fashion or business, or how people work and what their process is. Nothing brings people together talking like food and wine," Carlucci said. 

The most recent party, a fashion-themed soiree where Carlucci served Indian cuisine, brought client Target face to face with fashion designers, creatives and drag queens for an honest, off-the-record conversation. No traditional recording devices are allowed at the events because, as Carlucci explained, no one is quite themselves when they know they're being recorded. 

"People get more out of it than they think they are going to. You get an angle that a bunch of creatives sitting in a room, who are probably the same creatives that see each other every day, aren't going to get," Carlucci said. "You need to infiltrate your own process."  

The last rule, for dinner parties and otherwise: Carlucci always gets free reign when it comes to the menu.