It might be a lot like yours (or not at all)

What I learned from a Chef…

In Apartment Cooking, beauty and the biz on October 17, 2007 at 7:17 pm


my dear friend Sarah told me one night, while we were screaming in conversation over live hip hop performers, that i should meet her aunt…her “cool aunt”, Chef Andrea. i didn’t hesitate one day to set that up! Andrea and i planned a brunch at Cafe Laurent in Culver City (sinful French brunch food) last weekend to get to know each other more. Andrea is a Compton native with a great love and appreciation for her culinary career and expertise. a warm woman, standing tall, with pretty dark brown skin, and honest dark blue eyes…nice to talk about the industry with someone who looks a little more like me! and boy did she have stories to tell.

from high-end stints at Beverly Hills Chocolatiers, Cafe Roma, head pasty chef at the old flagship Aculpulco that used to be on LaCienega&Melrose, travels to Asian and Sweden with an award-winning pastry chef, catering for Wolfgang Puck, working her own catering business, working with Someone’s in the Kitchen Catering (Grammy’s, Oscars, Madonna, MGM, Sony, etc etc etc), and finally working as head Pastry Chef for the 800+ banquet hall at the Hilton in the LBC…her career was diverse and challenging the entire way. this wonderful woman dropped so many chef/owner names that i realized i have a lot of our local history to learn.

the entire experience was moving, to say the least, and i will share with you what i absorbed from her as she took me through the many stages of her career:

  • go to the best culinary school you can afford and have time for. you will learn more there than simply “how to cook” and in an industry based around practice and prestige, the best education you can get is essential. she took plethora of classes until she committed to the program that UCLA offered at that time. despite her many successes, she wishes she could have gone to the prestigious Johnson & Wales.
  • get the most out of your education, volunteer to do anything anywhere you can. build a variety of experiences and contacts.
  • be assertive to get your foot in the door…if someone says no or they don’t know you, make sure they know you will take trash out or do dishes for free, you just want to be there. starting at this level, as opposed to turning away at hearing “no” opened several doors for her.
  • in the culinary world, schooling included, you are always on show and your skill and ability is always being judged. in this industry, apprenticeships are still common. however, you don’t find your mentor…they find you. handle that pressure.
  • one thing that is learned and highly respected in this industry is perfection. to be a good chef or executive chef or anyone in the kitchen you have to be a perfectionist to the point that you are able to listen, understand, and execute exactly what the chef wants. if you cannot do this, then you will have a big problem…but it is a very important part of the art.
  • travel to different countries and take culinary classes from real chefs or from real schools. but watch out for any classes or education that are geared for the house-wife…they will not get you as involved with the cooking and the culture as you would be with a real chef.
  • if you start a catering company, be prepared to get worked! be real about it and what you’re getting into, most of the prep can only be done up to a few days prior to an events, which means you have to handle the crunch time. check and quadruple check your list on the day-of and know where to get things locally in case they are left behind. enlist help if you need it so you don’t burn out.
  • if your plan is to start a catering, events, personal chef, or restaurant business…remember, it is a business! if your passion lies in the actual cooking aspect of the culinary industry, but you don’t have passion or ability on the business side, you will struggle more than necessary. play to your strengths and if creating in the kitchen is yours, then work for someone or work with a partner who knows business.
  • and the final message, the one that stuck with me most was her encouragement and excitement for my beginnings and her obvious passion and love for the industry and the experiences she has had. we will be meeting again to go through her Art Culinaire collection!

as you can see, i learned a lot. mentors are fabulous. she would be the second mentor i’ve had the pleasure of connecting with. my first being the beautiful Ms. Jen Reitman of DAME Magazine. the best advice i can offer for having a mentor is to have one…more than one if possible. form a relationship with them and stay in touch. soak up what you can from them and help them however you can. remember to keep your own perspective, values, and goals in mind, and then one day give back to newbies by being their mentor!

  1. great post – so inspirational! lots to be learned…

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