The story of my mentors begins with a door—specifically, the entrance into the somewhat mythical Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. I had been reading chef Trotter’s first book, also called Charlie Trotter's, over the course of a year, obsessing nightly over every dish and, most importantly, obsessing over his philosophy of life. His pursuit of excellence was like a calling. I had decided that I had to go to this restaurant and dine.
So I flew to Chicago with a friend and had dinner. We ordered a grand menu and the vegetable menu. My friend was not a serious diner so I ended up eating both of the menus. After taking a tour of the kitchen after dinner, I made up my mind that I had to work at this restaurant.
I went back home and wrote a letter to chef Trotter.
The first week went by with no response. The second week went by with no response. I couldn’t take it anymore.
Which led me back to Chicago, where I went and knocked on the kitchen door and asked for a job. After I spent three days cleaning the kitchen and doing any small task that needed to be done and after a very serious and intense interview, chef Trotter took a chance on a young kid with very little experience, and I was extremely grateful for the opportunity. My time there was like boot camp, except instead of lasting six weeks, it lasted a year.
Working with a chef and team of Charlie's caliber really helped clarify the views on philosophy and life that were, unbeknownst to me, already part of my core vision.
I knew that eventually I'd need to move on and have experiences to help further my growth, but leaving the restaurant was one of the hardest decisions I'd ever had to make. But, going to a new place was also exciting.
New York City was the next big stop for me. My focus this time was on chef Daniel Boulud. He was considered the chef to work for in New York. I was accepted as a commis (an entry-level cook position) within his brigade at Daniel, and every day was intense and super busy. I became part of a long-term family there. Chef Daniel inspired each of us to perfect our techniques and, just like a wine professional, to taste, taste, taste. I still feel like I am a part of the family. Once you’re in, you’re always in.
Both chefs were many things to me—mentor, father figure, and sometimes friend. I wouldn't be where I am today had I not worked with these chefs. Each one contributed to my growth in specific ways. Charlie Trotter helped me find the mindset to accomplish anything I set out to do. Daniel Boulud fostered in me the true spirit of a chef. When I arrived in Los Angeles, to work with Joachim Splichal of Patina restaurant, I learned about the equally important business aspects of the restaurant world.
I started out in Chicago, forged my way in New York, and finally found my home in Los Angeles, and I give thanks to these mentors every day that I spend in the kitchen.
Chefs, wine professionals, anyone reading this who has a passion for their craft: What did your mentors teach you? And how did you come to know them?
Berry Crawford — January 11, 2007 4:21pm ET
Jason Thompson — Foster City, CA — January 11, 2007 8:06pm ET
Peter Cargasacchi — Sta. Rita Hills — January 12, 2007 12:02pm ET
David Myers — January 13, 2007 2:56am ET
David Myers — January 13, 2007 3:00am ET
David Myers — January 13, 2007 3:01am ET
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