World Renowned Chef John Doherty's Key Ingredient for Leadership

World Renowned Chef John Doherty’s Key Ingredient for Leadership

… it’s about helping people reach their fullest potential.

— Chef John Doherty

What would you say if I told you there’s a hidden barn in Manhattan’s upscale NoMad district? To be more precise, it’s Black Barn, which is brought to life by the talented Chef-Owner John Doherty and his staff. A man whose reputation far exceeds his modest manner. A chef who has cooked for more kings, presidents, and world leaders than you could imagine — seriously, can I get Guinness to verify a world record over here?!


Chef John Doherty is more than a talented, passionate cook — he’s a leader excelling through management and motivation.


John approaches speaking with both enthusiasm and organization. He brings real world experiences and examples to the table while establishing a connection to his audience. While his reputation in the industry and credentials are second to none, his presentation style is unassuming and engaging.


— John F. Stika, President of Certified Angus Beef


The Shed at Black Barn

John Doherty comes with a history full of impressive experience. He ran the kitchen and it’s operations at the famous Waldorf-Astoria, and I’m taking all 3 of its restaurants; room service and special events. Including events for Rock and Roll, NASCAR, Knights of Malta, Al Smith, UNGA, and more. You better believe their residents and guests loved to throw elaborate parties.


In those days, a lot happened at the Waldorf Astoria. One of their suite residence, Mrs. Mildred Edwin Hilson was known for throwing the most lavish and exciting parties in the world. The New York Times described her as the “…grande dame of New York’s charity circuit who entertained royalty and heads of state in her suite at the Waldorf Towers” When they asked her about her skills, she would say:


Oh no, I just call John Doherty and get them to do the parties for me.
— Mrs. Mildred Edwin Hilson


Chef Doherty was the youngest Executive Chef at just twenty-seven and held the title for over 23 years making him the longest tenured as well. What I admire most about his approach is the attention to detail and quality of his food and staff. One of my favorite experiences at Black Barn would be his Chef’s Table ↓ both personal and delicious!

The amount of stories John has are destined to become a book — from presidential handshakes to serving the meal for one of the most influential meetings in the history of world peace. This was the 40th Anniversary of the United Nations in 1985 — where the theme ‘United Nations for a Better World’ aided in ending the Cold War. Six world leaders gathered in one room for dinner. Because one thing every single person can enjoy is an astounding meal. Read more about it here. 

Casually enough — here’s that time with Frank Sinatra. If you’re curious about his stories, make sure to ask him the next time you’re at Black Barn.

So like most great tales — let’s take it way back to the beginnings. Chef Doherty started off at a mom-and-pop restaurant where he learned the base of his teachings. That quality surpasses quantity and that a welcoming, friendly environment makes all the difference. His value for hospitality is extremely outstanding!

His story goes → It was through CIA’s externship program where John weaved his own path to find himself at the Waldorf-Astoria. He made his way to the hotel where he then asked someone to point him to the executive chef. With confidence and a driven passion to be taught — John approached the executive chef at the time and asked for any position.

I’ll do anything, I’ll wash floors, I’ll cut onions.

… to which Chef Arno Schmidt laughed and said okay.

— John Doherty

The timing worked out well that he brought me in to cover for other chef’s when they went off on vacation. There were three restaurants, each with a different cuisine and then there was also room service. I got to see a little bit of all four. Then went back to school to finish. I graduated on a Friday and went to work at the Waldorf the following Monday, I was so excited.

During his time at the Waldorf-Astoria — John made an impact in more ways than one. He led by example as John recalled:

While I was cooking in the kitchen I started asking the chef for bone to make my own stock, I would ask for fresh vegetables and he thought that was admirable. Believe it or not, the cook next to me started asking for some of the same stuff. Instead of people mocking, they began to get a sense of pride and it went around the kitchen. Before you knew it, the quality of the food was elevated.

— John Doherty

This focus on quality and John’s rapid ascent up the ranks in the kitchen were not all met peacefully.

I was assaulted many times, punched in the face twice, had a knife put to my chest, pot swung at my head, and eventually woke up in the hospital. One of the cooks had hit me in the back of my head with a pipe — I ended up in Bellevue Hospital and that’s how I became deaf in my left ear. But I went back 5 weeks later when I could walk.

— John Doherty

This backlash to his efforts to create a world class kitchen environment did not diminish his drive. 

That vision never left my head. That vision brought purpose to everything I did and I worked harder than ever to achieve that. For the next several years — at times it got discouraging — we spent so much of our time trying to change behavior rather than putting out incredible food. It gradually got better and 8 to 10 years later we had a team of people — cleaned house and people did change which was a great lesson to learn that people can change when they want to — it shows with good management you can inspire people to change to better themselves. Every year we got significantly better.

— John Doherty

You can’t do this alone — I needed the 15o people to move this mountain with me. It only happened when I transformed from being a manager to a leader. Great cooking comes from the heart, which is why it was necessary to create an environment where people felt inspired.

— John Doherty

At Black Barn, John created a friendly environment of rustic and casual yet where the food is refined and the wine divine, and the service is great. His leaderships shines through in every person and every dish at Black Barn.

Authenticity is the new luxury. Where one can be comfortably themselves. I love when I hear the buzz in the dinning room. I hear laughter and happiness and that’s why I’m doing this.

— John Doherty

 Furthermore, for more information about John’s leadership seminars see here.