Letter from a young Chef

Let’s face it, the world without chefs would a bland, uncreative, gray and most definitely not an exciting  place. Chef’s have influence our lives more than we want to accept or realize. Even behind that greasy and unhealthy fast food that we all love which has kept the world in an ample eating daze, we can’t help but to secretly be grateful.

I mean from the way we grow our crops, to the breakfast we eat, lunch, dinner, and all the stuff you snack on, there is a Chef behind that mouthful. You are who you are not because of what you eat, but rather, because options many Chef’s have already made for you to eat.

I don’t want to bored you about my story, however, it is very difficult, almost impossible to start such a blog about food and the infamous world it lurks in and not talk a little about me. Because of this, I have to disappoint you and tell you just a little about me and why I’m writing and not cooking like any other Chef or Cook who wish their 12 hour shift would be over so that they can go home, get something cold to drink and do the whole thing over again the next day.

I come from very poor background that was filled with happiness and always and hefty fridge with all our needs. My parents made sure of that. I was born in Maracaibo Venezuela, however, I don’t have any Venezuelan blood or roots, in fact both my mother and father where born in Colombia and they as well don’t have any Colombian blood either. What’s on paper, I guess, is not who I feel I am. Now, I don’t say this to discredit the country I was born in, but rather, when you get to the root of things, I want to be clear.

My mother is a full blooded Italian gal with all the looks, tastes and likes of the boot country. My father is half American (USA to be exact. Don’t want any ‘politically correct’ Pharisees calling me.) and the other half from the middle east. Lebanon and Syria to be exact. Whatever, your a mutt too!!!

I would say that being poor was what eventually led me to love this life sucking industry that is so addictive, one can only leave it with a shadow above them and scars with enough proof you were once in the midst of yelling chefs, hot as Satan’s butt equipment, annoying clients and weekends where your phone blows up because your friends who are out having a great time could not continue without you. I did not care about any of it when an award winning dish would leave my hands and into the eyes of hungry dinners who couldn’t pronounce half the stuff on the menu. I loved the craft and all the junk it brought.  But the reason I left had nothing to do with the bad and obviously not the good, but rather a turn of events such as religion, personal and unpredicted events, but I’ll leave that for another day. For those who know me, you know I have been very vocal about why I left.

For now, I’ll briefly write on one of the reasons, lack of mentoring. I am fully convinced that the reason why we don’t have more Daniels, Achatz, Adria’s or Kellers is because of lack of investment in a one on one time with between a Chef and Cook. Above all, a Chef is only as good as the Cook he teaches.

Mistakenly we think, “well, we don’t have time.” But the truth is that the time is inside the kitchen where most time is spent and one should be mentor. I had many managers in many places I worked, but only one Chef took the time to talk, Chef Caesar Zapata. Much can be said about Chef Caesar Zapata, hey, many would even say he is not the best out there, but he is the only Chef in my short 8 years career that took the time to sit and talk to give me tips to improve.

Other reasons are the lack of information your 20k a year university tells you about the industry. Kids go there thinking they will come out ready to lead a kitchen, but at no point is there an emphasis on the back-breaking sacrifice, financial burdens, managing, mentoring, leading a team let alone the vast  knowledge that it takes on how to cook and develop dishes.

“You will get there” they would say. “Ask the employer what they can do for you.” and such things.

School labs would last Nine days and seven hours each day on a lab for each category line. New World cuisine, Stock, Soups and Sauces, Garde Manger and such classes to name a few is not enough to be a chef. A good Chef needs a year on each line and a great two while all the while, going home and continuing the craft. That’s what I did at least. It takes years to learn the stuff, not including the time it takes to learn how to lead. Yes, others are more gifted at the stuff and some have to work harder to get there. But that’s in everything we do in life, there will always be a Larry Bird and a Michael Jordan. Both just as great, but one had to work harder to get there.

Wishes began to come true

While at Wish Restaurant in South Beach, I remember Michael Bloise telling me that if I went for my Bachelors in Culinary Arts, he would fire me. I respected that since he was a graduate from JWU and knew all the bologna that goes on, I thought. I thought I  understood what he meant. You become a student and a chef in the kitchen plus added pressure, not at school. That was probably the best and maybe the only good thing I learned from him. At least that’s what I thought. Wish should have been a better experience for most of us and at first it was. I was introduced to sou vie, oils, braising, searing, emulsions, humble fog, lychee fruit, Duck Prosciutto and so much more. I had my first taste of Skate, Foi, Pork Belly and Mash Potatoes with Peanut butter. The umami was crazy good! Many great experiences there while getting my butt kicked along the way. It was all I wanted on Earth. However, I was creating these experiences, rather then the Chefs helping me do so. I did not know what anything was 80% of the time so in many ways I was training myself.

Chef Bloise was let go for many reasons. I then found my self working in the Hamptons after a school buddy put in a good word for me. That experience changed me a lot! Things changed for me in New York, the techniques were worst and creativity was out the window, but yet, our carrots, greens and such where so fresh they still had their roots and soil in them. The corn was so sweet and juicy, it had no need for it to be cooked, oysters and clams harvest that same day. By far the best and highest ingredients I have ever worked with. It was almost a paradox.

Young Cooks

The worst thing you want as a young cook is to be five years in and still not knowing what kind of style of cooking you like, whats foods, what techniques or even what your five year plans are. There is so much to learn that not having that mentor can really change things for you.

Ask a young cook right now what is their favorite thing to eat or what is their style of cooking. They will either give you some weir hesitated answer or some kind of elaborate responses in which you can easily see they found in a Food and Wine Magazine. Or how about when they answer first the technique of their favorite dish like, “Seared Stake with Asparagus and Truffle Espuma.” Blah, Blah, Blah.

A Chef who has found their direction will tell you the following, ” Wagyu Filet with white caramelized Asparagus, French White Truffles shaved over a Sunny Neeman Farm Duck Egg .” A Chef worries more about the ingredient, because the ingredient is what’s unique, techniques are many and important yes, but ingredients is always first, it’s what gives you the vision on how you will treat and develop a dish.

It took me years and much reading to understand how this industry works. There is three elements to focus on really,

  1. The element of learning why you cook, what ingredients are and where they come from.
  2. The element of managing time, mentoring, leading and developing.
  3. The elements of transformation, execution and understanding why things fail and how to make them work.

I you can learn the pure and simple basics of the world that orbits these elements, you will have a successful career. Please keep in mind that each element is like opening a phone app filled with many other little elements. Like element 1. I could say that the first thing you need to learn about cooking does not include heat or any kind of produce, but rather, it is to have the mentality of being organized and prepared. Any cook has gone through this tough challenge.

I’m Back

In 2012, I got married to my beautiful Wife, Kimberly. I then made a very thought decision to try new things. I bough a small franchise that offered loyalty cards and stamps, I became a Book keeper, a Writer, Blogger, Life insurance Agent, opened my own online store and almost went to the Army. I always said I would never cook professionally but that I would open a restaurant if the opportunity came.

I have the opportunity now to open a restaurant. Well, my partners and I are creating a concept that we hope will become a franchise. We are doing Neapolitan Style Pizza. We love Pizza and we can really elevated the concept to another level. I love the business side of the industry. It make sense and food comes and goes, it is by far the worst investment any human can make, yet, it is the one we need the most… In my other blog, ” We are opening a Restaurant” I’ll explain more on how it all came about. For now, I am ready to get back in the saddle, I know who I am, and what I need and how to get there. Till we meet again, stay hungry, stay searching and stay true to yourself.

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