ellen gaedtgens featured in fonk’s editorial: powervrouw

In the latest series of Fonk’s ‘Powervrouw’, Annemieke Riesebos talks to our very own co-founder and managing director, Ellen Gaedtgens. The series depicts inspiring women from the marcom, art and media industry. It asks; who they are, what they do and where can they make a difference? 

You’re the co-founder of Chuck Studios. What do you do?

Our background is craft: film and photography for food brands, but we’ve evolved to produce food related strategies and concepts as well as the creative executions themselves. Over the last year, we’ve actually been developing a unique service: the Culinary Identity Creator.  This is a tool we use to create a truly individual identity for a brand based on its culinary attributes. Images aren’t distinctive enough. Ensuring that any content created supports brand guidelines and values is exactly what it was designed for, and it works!

We often collaborate with advertising and design agencies, who have a longstanding relationship with these brands and who know them inside out. We received a 100 percent positive response to this, which is very unique and extremely pleasing. 

Next to giving presentations about this tool, we’re busy developing three Culinary Identities for brands at the moment. 

A bit of history: What is Chuck Studios’ origin?

In the bathtub. It might sound strange, but it’s true. That’s where fun ideas originate for my husband, Olaf van Gerwen, and me. For years Olaf was working as a freelance director and I produced for a diversity of companies and clients. When I was about 46, I didn’t feel at home anymore at the place I was working and my husband said: You’ve seen every side of this business and have a huge network. Wouldn’t you like to start for yourself? I found it terrifying, but I also thought: If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it. 

Olaf became a silent partner in the background, and I ran the place; and that that’s how we started. We rented a small sixty square meter place at Tussen de Bogen in Amsterdam and hired a photographer. I fried chicken breasts, did the food styling and scrubbed the toilet on Monday mornings, because we didn’t have the money for a cleaner! Now, eight years later, we have four busy branches around the globe.

Olaf is now the Global Creative Director of Chuck Studios as well as a very successful commercials director in his own right. No longer the silent partner in the background. 

Where do you make a difference?

I hire people on intuition, not only on their splendid resumé. I look at them and listen to my gut feeling. Which I follow completely. I have an eye for talent. I also make the difference to give people the opportunity to do what they like and what they are capable of. Most importantly, Chuck has to be a fun and nice working environment. This is the number one priority to develop creative work. Of course there are people who find me troublesome to work with. They see me as direct and straight forward. But that’s something I believe in. Although it is important to say sorry when I’m the one in the wrong. 

What goals do you still want to reach?

I just finished a coaching workshop for growing businesses and it became apparent just how important it is to have a long-term vision. To look ahead. I live one day at a time. Normally I go with “the flow”, but because of this workshop I had to think: What are my future goals? Short term, say next year, I’d like to have branches in Germany and the Middle East. The bigger plan is global coverage and with all those branches create the best work in the world. At this moment we have headquarters in Amsterdam and offices in London, Moscow and Los Angeles. Olaf and I are now taking on more of an advisory role day to day in the running the company, which we love. We have weekly digital meetings: What’s going on, where do we want to go and who’ve they been talking with? There’s a well oiled feeling of cooperation and unity between the branches, which we encourage and are proud of.

When was the last time you did something for the first time? And what was it?

Not that long ago I’ve listened to a podcast for the first time in my life. My husband loves them and I wanted to know what I’d make of them. I listened to an interview with Joris Bijdendijk, head-chef at restaurant Rijks. He’s someone who embodies ‘follow your dreams’ and ‘never give up’. I am amazed by his tenacity and perseverance. Extremely inspiring and am now I’m hooked.

What are you the most proud of?

There is only one right answer: my two daughters. Without a doubt. Work related, within eight years, we’ve created a globally successful company. I don’t think about it that much, but when asked about it, I stop to realise it’s quite an achievement.  I’m also humongously proud of Olaf, my husband, partner, favorite debater and all of our team.  

What do you regret?

I regret that I put a lot of time and effort in relationships with people whom I loved, only to find out that they valued the relationship less than I did.That hurt me and cost me too much wasted energy. Effort that could and should have been put to better use in other things in life. If I love someone and they do wrong by me, then I find it tends to almost drain me before I show them the door. If I end up in therapy, its for this!

How do you start your day?

I have a morning ritual. The first thing I do when I wake up is to cuddle my dog and then get a cup of coffee. Then I do yoga, send my daughters a text through WhatsApp, check my mail, wake my husband with a kiss and go to the office. 

 What the biggest trend within your discipline?

There is a huge demand for dairy free products and meat substitutes. I think the COVID crisis has had a huge hand in that. People are becoming more conscious about their contribution to a better world, their health and prevention of animal cruelty. In the near future there’s going to be a lot of communication about it. I’m curious when the meat substitutes are going to get rid of that title. Why don’t they name themselves something totally different?

What’s something that’s always in your bag?

A pipette to remove my lenses from my eyes. For thirty years I have worn  lenses, but without that pipette I can’t get them out of my eyes. I also have a plastic face mask that you can use to reanimate people. That is something I kept in there from my reanimation course two years ago. 

What is your favourite spot on earth?

I have a strong ability to visualize. There is a place inside my head where I often go, which I don’t know if it exists. Maybe its not very special, but there is a hammock between two trees inside a tropical rainforest. Don’t ask me why, but I find the sounds of rainforests soothing. At home I play them often: The wind, animal sounds, the birds, even a tropic storm – lovely. Off course, my companions are my daughters, my husband, loads of monkeys and dogs. That is my dream spot. 

Which side job taught you the most?

The answer to this question isn’t fun, but it is the first thing I think of. It is something I carried with me my entire life and had a huge impact on me, but it feels a bit like closure by telling it now. I once had a side job at a bakery. I was serving one day when an oldish man walked in. He told me he just went to the doctor and returned with good news. He wanted to celebrate the good news with a pastry for his wife and himself. When he walked to the pastry showcase, he suddenly says: ‘I’m not feeling well’ and collapsed on the floor. I was 17 and all by myself in the store. I froze, while I heard the man dying. Next to the bakery there was general practitioners office and someone outside called for help. I stood there frozen stiff and even though the doctor told me I couldn’t’ve been able to save him, it made a huge impact on my life. From that moment on I realised you can suddenly drop dead. I suffered from this thought a ginormous part of my life. It taught me to live one day at a time, to enjoy life and you don’t have to wait to show love to the people you hold dearest. Maybe that’s the reason I have put up with a lot from the people I love. Who knows.


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