“It was hard, but when things that are hard happen, you have to figure it out because you’re forced to; because you’re human,” executive Chef Bryce Shuman of Betony admitted to me during our heart-to-heart. Meeting Bryce for the first time felt like reconnecting with an old friend, whose beaming smile, pure spirit, and kind soul were refreshing to say the least. He expressed enthusiasm about his eclectic taste in music, his relationships with those who have impacted his life, and his leadership as executive chef. However, this positive and thankful outlook was the one deterrent behind getting to know what made Bryce the man he is today.
Self-aware and pensive, Bryce declared his outlook on his past as one of acceptance and appreciation, despite some bumps in the road. Looking back on his life, he is mindful to pay more attention to the ways in which he was blessed more than the struggles he underwent. “I think you can find trying times and hard times in everybody’s life,” he opined. “That’s what it is to be human. Not everything is handed to you on a platter.” He diverted attention from his own upbringing to the critical issues of world hunger and abuse, showing even more of his humanitarianism and humility. He showed appreciation that he never felt poor, neglected, or hungry, but thinks he did miss some opportunities growing up.
When the veil of ambiguity was finally cast away, I was allowed to peer into his past as he learned to cope with the biggest factor in his life: growing up moving from place to place as a child after his parents’ divorce. “I think there were a lot of broken relationships that affected me in a big way. I sort of learned to move on. You learn to tuck things away.” He remembered the experience with a reflective gaze, which was his only serious moment of the interview:
I moved around quite a bit. I moved from North Carolina to Pennsylvania. I was at an age where it was okay and I made friends really quickly. I was finding a home…then [years later], I moved to eastern North Carolina and it was a pretty big shock. [As a teenager], you’re really forming bonds as you’re slowly trying to become an adult…being ripped out of somewhere I built some social structure and great friends and there was vision and I recognized community and I was putting everything in place [wasn’t easy]…I came to eastern North Carolina…all the social norms and behavioral norms [were different]…it just smashed it. I was totally devastated. It’s a different social structure. Kids that age are not very accepting of outsiders.
Bryce’s reaction to the transient relationships in his life was reflected in his actions as he attempted to fit in with the crowd in his new hometown. “I tried to be a people pleaser. I tried to make friends. I tried to be the cool guy, which never works,” he chuckled. Although he did end up making some good friends, who he still cherishes and communicates with regularly, he was viscerally affected by this drastic shift in location at a prime time in his adolescence.
So, how did this upbringing affect the leader, husband, and father he is now? Though it is declared speculation, he is still adamant BYCE & URCHINSabout pleasing people and making sure there is consensus across the board, especially when he steps into the kitchen. He admitted there are moments when he makes final decisions without consulting others, as any leader must, but that he primarily focuses on fostering a family-like environment. Even when a cook makes a grave error, he is judicious in his approach to discipline. “I want to keep people in my kitchen and have relationships with my cooks…I want them to stick around and when they disappoint me, it makes me upset. I’m more than likely going to say to myself ‘Okay, I have to yell at this person right now so that they learn so that I can keep them around so our relationship can continue’ and then I scream and yell at them. It happens in a split second, but all that goes through my mind.” The respect between him and his cooks was palpable as we breezed through the kitchen and they chanted a “Yes chef!” as he told them to keep it tight. It was clear from the smiles on their determined faces that Bryce does an excellent job of being a fair and effective team leader.
Whether a result of his upbringing or circumstance, Bryce’s drive and determination are also astonishing. He adamantly declared, “I really believe that if there is anything that I want to do or achieve, I’m going to do it and I will achieve it. And it’s only a matter of time. It’s not a matter of if. It is just when. It is my responsibility and it is on my shoulders and that it is 100% up to me and that if I really want it, its gonna happen and there will not be anything that holds me back.” Such empowering and motivating words from a humble and positive human being like Bryce are the fabric of what makes up society’s most honorable people. The takeaway from my time with the brilliant executive chef of Betony is another one of his fundamental beliefs: “I don’t think anybody chuckles at their hard times. You take them as lessons and you learn lessons.”