I almost wanna say that this career chose me. I dealt with a lot of racism in school when I was growing up, so I spent a lot of time at home. That being said, I spent a lot of time to myself and I realized that I had a love for the arts. I ended up reading a lot, writing a lot, drawing a lot and I spent a lot of time with my mother at home in the kitchen. So she actually taught me how to start cooking when I was 10 years old. And the first thing that I made at home was her meatballs. She was cooking meatballs for the family and I started mimicking her moves in a smaller pot for myself right next to her. And ever since then, I've just fallen in love with cooking. It was so interesting to me. Where as a year or two later I started accompanying her to supermarkets and buying my own produce. I taught myself how to hold a knife, how to cut vegetables. My favorite thing to make was vegetable stir fry just because it involved about 20 different vegetables in one dish. And I learned how to cut everything, cook everything together. I spent years trying to perfect it so nothing came out mushy, everything tasted good and everything came together and it was actually just a kind of a preliminary for me to start out in this field. My father passed away when I was 16. He was always pushing me to do something with science. And almost to make him happy after he passed away, I enrolled in engineering school, but then when I got to engineering school, I realized I just didn't have a passion for it. After graduating high honors in high school, I slept through exams, I didn't go to class, I was put on academic probation after my first semester. The second semester of college, we, I took one program where a different engineer of a different field would come in and start talking about their jobs and I almost fell asleep. I just, I couldn't see myself doing that with my life. That same semester, one of my close friends, Mary, wanted to do something nice for her boyfriend for Valentine's Day, so she invited me and about five other friends into the kitchen with her to cook for her boyfriend. And between me and these five other girls, they were all impressed that I knew my way around the kitchen and I almost kind of took over. After that it was just kind of staring at me in the face what I should be doing with my life. So I dropped out of college and went to culinary school. I went to the Art Institute of New York City. At the time it did have a culinary program, it's not there anymore. It cost $36,000 for a year and a 1/2 program. And the year and a 1/2 program was both classroom portion and kitchen portion, so we spent the mornings in a classroom and the afternoons in a kitchen. They teach you the basics. The very first class that you take, as far as the kitchen goes, is learning how to hold a knife and learning how to cut vegetables and then after that you go into baking, you go into sauteing, you go into roasting, poaching. After I was done with my classroom portion, I did my internship at Jean-Georges Mercer Kitchen in SoHo. I spent 11 weeks there unpaid and finished what we call a kitchen externship. It actually didn't go very well for me. So, my very first hour, my very first day there, I actually cut myself really badly. So... I spent one hour there and then I went to the hospital to get seven stitches. I actually went back the same day in which case the chef told me to go home. The kitchen externship is actually just to get your feet wet as far as, now you've gone to school, you've seen everything that happens, but in school everything happens at a slower pace. Now that you're in a restaurant setting, you realize that everything happens at a much faster pace and you're working alongside more experienced cooks that can cut faster, that can cook faster, that can think faster and basically the point of the externship is for you to be immersed in a new type of world. So when I was starting out in this industry I had a lot of support from my family. They helped me out a lot with bills. For a very long time I was living at home. And my very first job I was making $300 a week working in a kitchen. I was doing what I love to do, but I didn't have a lot of money to spare. So, they, my mother, let me still live at home. It's not ideal for a 23, 24 year old to be living at home, but at the time it was what was necessary to do. Whatever money I had left over, whatever money I saved up to buy cookbooks, to keep reading, to immerse myself in this world, to take myself to the next level. And I dined out a lot of restaurants, I cooked for myself a lot at home just testing out new recipes and what not. I did a lot of this at work. I almost bugged my chefs with questions about, ya know, can you teach me this, can you teach me this, can you teach me this? And I started taking on more and more tasks to see what I could handle and what I enjoyed doing. And starting out you will take any job you can for any amount of money to learn any part of it. I used to switch jobs for 50 cents more if they paid me and, ya know, at the time I moved around a lot. I didn't keep a job more than, for more than 10 months. And then I went on to another job after that. But it was all learning experience. So in 2007, I actually, I started eating at Tabla Restaurant. My very first lunch I fell in love with the food. And I remember I dined by myself, I spent about $50 on a lunch, which, at the time for me, was very expensive. And it was a taste of a pumpkin soup that just made me fall in love with the restaurant. His application process was a two page letter that involved all these questions to figure out what your passion is. And it, there was a varying degree of questions. I decided to take that questionnaire, type it out and then at the end of the day I wrote him a nine page letter. I put it in an envelope, I came to lunch again the very next day and a week later he called me to trail in his kitchen. I had a quick 15, 20 minute interview and then after that I was invited back to trail in the kitchen. So, that day involved me coming in, working for, I believe, I was there for eight to 10 hours, working for free to see if I fit in with them. What they were basically looking at was my passion for food, my knife skills, how well I worked with other people and then at the end of the day, they decided to give me a job. Generally, I like to hire people that have a great attitude about food, that wanna learn, that wanna be here, that wanna grow themselves and take themselves to the next level, because it is, it's a lot of hard work and it's a lot of repetition, it's a lot of long hours, and since it's a small kitchen you have a lot of people that are working together in a small confined area. We want everybody to get along. Starting out in this industry, depending on what your skill level's at, usually most people will start off as a prep cook, moving into a salad station then the hot line. We actually have a bread and pastry station in our kitchen as well for movement. That would be the generally hierarchy that you move up to. After that, you will, you can, go to a different restaurant and learn their system of things. Every restaurant is different. Every restaurant has different ingredients, how everything kind of comes together, different recipes, but for the most part my advice would be to keep your eyes and ears open to everything. You can learn so much from your chef versus a fellow line cook versus a dishwasher. Everybody does things differently, and everybody has little, almost what we call, tricks of the trade and when you're starting out, you wanna keep your eyes open to everything and that way when you do start running your own kitchen, you know right from wrong. For most chef de cuisine, it's almost a training ground to own and operate your own restaurant. Me being in charge of all the kitchen operations here, the next step for me would ideally be to be an executive chef or own my own place. It all depends on the person and what they want to do for themselves. For me, personally, I'm free spirited enough to know that whatever the next level is, life is gonna take me wherever it wants to take me, but for most people this would be a training ground for an executive chef level. In the past 10 years, the food industry has changed a lot and a lot of that has to deal with social media, networking, and just how much more exposure people have to the food industry in general. There's so many different restaurant concepts out there, there are so many different things that you can do in the food industry as far as even food writing, food photography, you can be a restaurant chef, you can own a bakery, you can, there's so many, the possibilities are endless. Now, for a restaurant chef, you need to be in a kitchen for a long time, you need to do a lot of repetition, make mistakes, be humiliated and then just kinda keep moving forward. A lot of people now are realizing that they don't need to do that. They can be making the same amount of money doing something else in this industry. So to be a restaurant chef, you have to follow one way, but the food industry is open to so many other possible things now. In a perfect utopian world, my girlfriend and I would live on the beach and just own a small shack just serving people that, whoever wants to come by and eat and I'll just cook daily specials of probably fish and whatever I can catch and she'll serve it and then we'll spend the night together and that's really it, that would be a perfect utopian world.
Careers brought to you with support from Better Money Habits® Powered by Bank of America® Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender. Investment Products: Are Not FDIC Insured, Are Not Bank Guaranteed, May Lose Value