Jeanine Bribosia is one of Australia’s coveted brand experts in Australia’s restaurant, hospitality and destination industry. Establishing her own creative consultancy, The Cru in 2010, Jeanine studied the prestigious Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago, followed by a significant career in journalism, events and PR. Staying true to her original vision and rapidly cementing her agency as the leader for food, travel and lifestyle in Australia; X-FILES learns about Jeanine’s career trajectory. Did we mention that Jeanine’s personal style is one to be lusted after?
How did you leap into your career? Tell us about your formal background/education.
I wanted to be a journalist by the time I was 10. Jana Wendt and Christian Amanpour were my idols and one of my favourite parts of holidays overseas was watching CNN! I went to journalism school in Chicago, and decided magazines were where I wanted to be, so when I returned home, I interned at ACP (now Bauer) and then worked my way into a job at Gourmet Traveller. While I was at ACP I worked across editorial, advertising, creative services and events - I saw that media was about more than writing. I loved seeing how the whole lot came together- where brands fitted in, how it was all funded. I also realized food and restaurants were my passion. Back then that wasn’t very cool! I joined a PR agency that specialized in wine, spirits and food - I wanted to see how that side of the media worked, and I loved it. I started reviewing for Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide, and by then I was immersed in the hospitality industry.
I thought it was completely the wrong time actually! I was 27 years old when a former client took a punt that I might be entrepreneurial and guaranteed me a year-long retainer if I would work on their business. I thought I was far too young, far too inexperienced, a total upstart! But I wasn’t afraid of hard work, in fact I always loved throwing myself into work, and I wondered what was the worst thing that could happen. I could always go back to a job. I also grew up with a mother who was a successful entrepreneur, so small business was in my blood. She told me to go for it. Eight years ago, no agency in Australia was focusing solely on restaurants and I saw a gap in the market and a way to work closely with an industry I loved and admired.
The Cru’s clientele focuses on premium hospitality establishments. Was your involvement in founding Australia’s number one food podcast The Pass, a natural progression?
Definitely, it felt like something that would be an incredibly satisfying progression for me personally (to actually be the storyteller for a change) but also a way to give something back to an industry I really love. I have had access to the stories of incredible chefs and food personalities and wanted a place to be able to tell those and shine a light on some amazing people and places. There are fewer and fewer opportunities for long form stories in media, and podcasts are such a flexible fun medium that you can make up your own rules really. It’s also a partnership with two of my best friends, Magdalena Roze and Sam Kennedy - an opportunity to work with very talented friends is a rare one.
What have you gained from being involved in both projects?
It’s definitely scratched an itch to be on the journalistic side again! I love being involved in the storytelling, rather than being reliant on someone else telling the story. For a PR, being able to control and tell the story is a luxury! It also means I understand a relatively new medium, podcasts, and can hopefully share those learnings with clients and make sure we continue to innovate, embrace new technology and think differently as an agency.
With such a formidable client portfolio, what has been the most rewarding project of your career? It sounds trite but working with people who are essentially my heroes and being able to help them in some way is incredibly rewarding. I would never have dreamt that I could be involved in some of the projects The Cru has handled and having the trust of some of the best chefs and restaurateurs around is thrilling. One of the best moments of my career was finding out that we had won the pitch to work with Tourism Australia on bringing Noma (the world’s best restaurant) here, and then going on to work with Noma in Mexico (embedded with them in Tulum) and then again with Tourism Australia on bringing The World’s 50 Best Restaurants to Melbourne. It’s like being involved with the Oscars if you are in film, or the Met Gala if you are in fashion.
In establishing your business, what has been the most challenging?
Learning how to lead and manage a team, by far. I don’t think that ever stops being challenging - it’s dealing with humans, and all humans are different. I have learned through my mistakes, but I hate making mistakes when it comes to my team. I would like to get it right every time when it comes to mentoring and motivating them, but I don’t, and I can’t. Working out how to do the best by them, and in turn our clients, is what keeps me up at night (well, that and an eighteen-month-old!)
What do you identify as your competitive edge in this industry and how do you stay relevant?
We are unapologetically specialists. We know our niche inside and out, it’s what we pride ourselves on, and I think clients can feel the passion and dedication to their industry. I think we can add value well beyond PR and marketing because we are experts so we can help with their whole business. And we care about their business.
What ingredients or attributes are required when recruiting new staff?
Passion for our industry and desire to immerse yourself in every aspect of it - grab every opportunity, read and watch everything on the topic, go to every event you can. That hunger to become an expert is vital. And flexibility- every day in a business like ours is different and if you embrace that, it makes it fun not frustrating.
Naturally you and your husband, group wine director of QT Hotels & Resorts, identify as foodies. What are your top three dining experiences around the world (including your hometown of Sydney)?
I can’t choose any of my clients because it’s like choosing a favourite child, so I am going to have to go with some international experiences! Extebarri in a tiny town in the hinterland of San Sebastian in Spain where they cook everything over fire; La Chassagnette in the south of France where you eat vegetable focused food in the most beautiful wild garden setting; more farm to table dining at Blue Hill at Stone Barns about an hour outside of New York City. And the first time I ate at Noma in Copenhagen absolutely blew my mind…. I could go on and on! Those are some of the fancier ones, but I equally love a night exploring the natural wine bars of Paris and Copenhagen (and there are plenty), a croissant-crawl at bakeries in Paris (Du Pain et Des Idees and Le Ble Sucre are my faves), street food and markets in Mexico City (a taco tour with an expert is a must) and various dumplings at Hawker Markets in Singapore.
What is the next travel destination we need to know about?
It’s getting harder and harder to get off the beaten track as everyone learns about destinations on Instagram, but Oaxaca in Mexico is the ‘new Tulum’ and there’s no doubt that Sri Lanka is topping the list in Asia at the moment- there is desire to go there before it changes forever. I am off to Puglia in Italy this summer as an alternative to the Amalfi Coast which can get pretty hectic and overcrowded, and because Puglia is the ‘vegetable basket’ of Italy.
What is exclusive to the Sydney food scene?
Whenever I come home from eating overseas, I realise just how lucky we are to have Asian flavours and ingredients as an inherent part of our food. The acidity, spice and vibrancy that we just take for granted in our takeaway to our fine dining. I crave it when I am away. Sydney dining is also so much about having a good time- when we get service right, there’s nothing better than the Sydney approach to it- informed but relaxed, funny but respectful.
Define your style guide to the modern woman’s work wardrobe.
I wear a lot of neutral silks as a base, and then mix them with statement pieces- a bright, vibrant, textured skirt or pair of trousers in a bold colour or print. I go out a lot for work in the evening but usually don’t have time to change, so I find that dresses that can take me from day to night are easiest, especially Isabel Marant. Usually I will just add earrings and a classic jacket or blazer, and I am done. I have ditched heels for during the day and far prefer elegant but interesting flats! I have become a collector of sandals, slides, pumps and sneakers - heels slow me down and I like to be able to walk between meetings and run after my toddler when I need to without compromise on style. And classic bags but in an interesting tone- I love a bag in a neutral that’s not black or straight brown but can go with most of my outfits.