My culinary career
In the world of cooking, there are various levels of restaurants one can pursue to work in. I worked in all three.
- At the bottom we have fast food
- In the middle is casual dining (any normal place)
- Then there is high end.
The Spanish dudes fucked with me all the time and I loved it.
One day they found and caught a LIVE pigeon and put it under my apron while I was working. By no means was it sanitary and. it pretty much violated every health code violation. It sure was the weirdest memory I have from my early days as a chef. Like…some grown man decided to put a live pigeon up my apron. That was my life.
I’ve worked in low end kitchens, while also having briefly rubbed shoulders with Michelin starred chefs in their kitchens. My first love in life was actually photography then culinary. I chose to pursue cooking since there was more of a demand for it. Being that my father was a chef, I was able to get an entry level job as a prep cook at his restaurant.
Long story short, I slaved away there from 18-21 until I became the executive chef after Pat Croce became the new owner of the restaurant group.
That moment changed my life.
I was a young, dumb, punk kid running a place that would do $25k in food sales on a busy day.
I became the Executive chef. It was my kitchen now.
(pro tip – setting food on fire like that actually isn’t great.
I was by no means qualified to run anything, my managerial skills sucked, but the staff liked me. My father was respected & I learned Spanish and helped the Spanish guys learn english. It made us close. I heard some crazy shit. I saw some crazy shit. It was honestly the craziest time in my life.
At 21 years old, I was running a $4 million dollar a year kitchen. I ended up auditioning for Hells Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay. I made it past the first interview and thought I was so close! Then came the second part of the interview. They asked me food related questions, to my surprise…I knew nothing.
Like what the fuck happened? How was I running a restaurant of this size, but knew nothing about food? How did I fail so hard? It took me some time to realize this, but I failed because I spent so much time being busy, but I wasn’t productive. I didn’t spend those years growing and investing into what I was doing.
Failing this hard made me want to do better, so I did. I had the opportunity to work in a Michelin starred restaurant! Never heard of these? Probably because you can’t afford them. These are those $1,000 per plate experiences you hear about. That is all I wanted.
I started working at higher end restaurants, my favorite being a private yacht club in Ket West. I eventually became the sous chef there. I worked with my best friends, cooked amazing good and smoked weed all day. It was an amazing time of growth, learning and what led me to want to move to the Big Apple.
Sebby was moving to New York!
The way you land jobs at high level places is by “staging”, it’s a term used to describe a test run in the kitchen, like a hands on interview. This can last a few hours or even months, it depends on how high profile the place is at the time. You may NEVER get paid to work at certain places. It’s that prestigious, well at least it was until they scared everyone away from cooking. Now they have a shortage of guys & gals like me.
Once I got to NYC, I ended up staging at two places, one called Atera, the other Blue Hill. Both were in NYC. Atera being 2* and Blue Hill being 1*.
Three stars is the highest rating in the Michelin guide.
Atera was CRAZY. 14 people per seating, 2 seatings a night. Something like 18 courses when I was there. It cost roughly $400 for just food, per person. My day there was roughly 16 hours long. A kid came in with a black eye, had gotten robbed on the way to work, they stole his phone and he STILL got bitched at for being late.
Blue Hill was a bit different. To save you the minor details, I lost my passion for cooking there. The food was AMAZING, it had nothing to do with that. The staff was a lovely, great, hard working group of people. That kitchen was tight ran well…so what drove me away?
They wanted me there at 11am which is fine, the problem came when it was time to leave. There was SO much to do, it would take us hours. We would leave between 2-3 am only to be back the next day to do the same bullshit again. The kitchen itself also made me anxious, like the physical space I mean. It was too small, too cramped, too NYC.
Read the book Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, everything he talks about is pretty much what my cooking life was like, minus the heroin.
The last time I ever stepped foot into a kitchen
I left the Michelin pursuit to make donuts at Underwest Donuts with a cool ass dude named Scott. Scott was great and he really helped me so much while I got settled in New York. We made some amazing donuts and changed some lives. I learned so much there. Just the fact that I had to deal with customers daily made me a wayyyy better sales person.
How this helped me sell suits in NYC
My first sales job EVER was in the middle of one of the busiest shopping districts in the world. SOHO. I landed a gig at a really busy store called Suitsupply, I charmed the gay district manager into hiring me, even though I had no sales experience, he took a shot on me.
Oh, and I had NEVER worn a suit before my first day at work there.
What a crazy place. So much stuff always going on, never was it dead in that place. The neighborhood just felt like NYC. It was perfect. Our lunch breaks would consist of fashion shoots down alley ways. It was what I dreamed of my whole entire life.
I had cool friends, was taking the kinds of photos I wanted & was doing sales in such an amazing environment. It had it’s issues, like any job, but man did that job help me with my personal skills.
Now I wasn’t making donuts or plating food with tweezers, instead I was on my knees with my hands near another mans crotch. This skill set was an interesting one to learn for this one reason.
If you can small talk with a complete stranger while your hand is inches from their dick, you can do anything.
But how did cooking help with selling suits?
Remember those 14 hour days I would work as a cook? Those involved eating lunch standing up out of a to-go container.
I never took breaks, kitchens won’t let you. Sure, we bullshit sometimes, but for the majority of the day it was 110% effort. I have burned half my face off with oil, sliced the tip of my thumb off on a meat slicer, & dealt with people from multiple nationalities, daily.
I had to know the basics of two languages, Spanish & Creole, just so the guys wouldn’t talk shit on me. Most people don’t work like that.
Working in a corporate environment doesn’t grow you in the same way a physically demanding job does. Corporate pressers are deadlines, meetings, presentations etc. The physical pressures are low, while the mental pressure is high. The chances of dying or getting severely injured in a kitchen is moderate. I mean I did mention I burned half my face, so I’m not lying about that.
The countless drug addicts, thief’s, liars and flat out scumbags I had to deal with in restaurants made me ready for the NYC business guys. It’s just the nature of the business, it attracts those sorts of people. I have met some really bad people in kitchens.
What that instilled in me was a sort of charisma that allowed me to talk to anyone and everyone.
Kitchens gave me confidence.
No longer was i intimidated by a guy that made $250k a year because I knew that he couldn’t cook to save his life, but I could.
I had a skill set that I worked so hard at, for years, and the confidence of knowing where I had gotten allowed me to push through all of those hard days of dealing with crappy customers.
Besides being mentally fortified and having pretty much seen it all, physically I could our pace just about everyone. I don’t get as tired as fast just because work to me has always involved me being on my feet and hustling. My co-workers took more breaks, got distracted more, and lost motivation faster than I did. They would get emotional under stressful situations.
I learned early on that emotions don’t work in kitchens. You need to be clear and level headed at all times or you can chop your finger off. This is a skillset you can develop, but you need to find your own way of doing it. For me, when things get tough, I stop and clean.
If I’m cooking a dish & its not going well, the best thing to do is to stop, clean your work space, and refresh your mind. Now you can relate that with anything, when it came to suits, I would organize the store instead of helping more customers.
Why did I neglect customers to tidy up?
No one knew where anything was because it would get so busy that customers / sales reps would throw shit everywhere. Now instead of waisting time looking for stuff, we can get back to helping customers efficiently.
Use that in all aspects of your life. Clean your mind and your physical space often.
I bet you will grow as a person.