In 2007, at the age of 16, I got a job at a Bar and Grill style restaurant. The place did Friday Night Fish Fry’s, Saturday Prime Rib, and a regular daily menu. Shortly after I was hired there, the place closed down for a little while, and re-opened as a Banquet center. They still did the regular weekly menu, but offered the space and accommodations for large 300+ person parties. Here, I learned the basics of bar and grill food. How to cook chicken, burgers, and steaks. I learned how to use a deep fryer and a flat top grill. I learned how to make some soups and use a knife. I enjoyed cooking and considered going to school for it.
Interest in School
After graduating high school, working a few days a week for minimum wage wasn’t going to cut it anymore. I decided I wanted to go to Culinary School to get a better cooking job. I called Le Cordon Bleu in Minneapolis MN and asked what my first step should be. They told me that if I was interesting in cooking, I should check out Christian’s Bistro. So, that’s what I did.
In August of 2009, I went into Christian’s Bistro with my Grandmother and she pushed me to apply for a job. I applied for a dish washing position, and I got the job in September. The Bistro was a lot different than the restaurant I was previously working at. It was certainly more of a fine dining place than anywhere else in town. I washed dishes for a few months and then started to get trained to be a prep-cook. That was when I really started to learn the basics of cooking. Making vinaigrette’s and aioli’s, cutting all sorts of vegetables, and of course, washing dishes. After seeing how eager I was to learn, Christian decided to put me on the pantry station. Pantry was in charge of salads and deep fryer. It wasn’t long before I worked my way up to the grill station. Grill manned the flat-top and the char-grill. The next station was saute. Saute handled a 6 burned range as well as the oven. Each station more difficult than the last, I like to think I mastered all of them. With help from my coworker and roommate, we wrote daily special menus, chose which fish to order, shopped for our own local vegetables, and toured local farms and meat company’s. The Bistro was doing well, and they panned to open a second restaurant, where I would become Sous Chef.
At 20 years old, we opened Father Fat’s Public House. Quite a different environment than the Bistro, but the same quality of food and service. Fat’s is a Tapas style restaurant with a New York feel. The tag line on their website says it all:
Father Fats tastes like New York, Asia, The Deep South and Spain, filtered through the lens of a knife-wielding masterful Chef putting together the ultimate hit list of ingredients.
Brand new kitchen, brand new staff, brand new everything. It was like a dream. The Chef de Cuisine and I were in charge of everything from creating menus and scheduling our cooks, to scrubbing the floor and washing the grease traps. You name it, I did it. A few months after we opened, I turned 21. Freshly 21 years old, working nights downtown, living 2 blocks away. What could go wrong? I worked my ass off for that first year. Had many stressful nights and many rough mornings. Some Saturdays I would work till 12am, go to the bar until it closed at 230am, go home and take a nap and be back in the kitchen at 4am Sunday morning. This eventually caught up to me, and I was late for work. Twice. My boss didn’t want me setting a bad example for the cooks below me, so he did what he had to do. He fired me.
Back to the Bistro
I wasn’t completely fired. He gave me my old job back. A regular line-cook/dishwasher at the Bistro. I was back to making hourly pay, and things were a lot less stressful than they were before. I thought with all the extra time I had not working 60 hours a week, I would have more time to drink and party. WRONG. Once again, after just a few short months of working at the Bistro, I was late again. They had to let me go. This time for good. It’s not that they didn’t want me working there, or didn’t like me as a person; business is business. You can’t inspire young line cooks to become great chefs if you let some get away with less than appropriate behavior. And that was it, I was done.
I am no longer a professional sous chef, or line cook. After getting fired, I decided to go back to school to become a Software Developer. I am currently employed as an Software Engineer and I couldn’t be happier. I was able to skip culinary school, and get paid to learn to cook. I made some great friends along the way and even better knowledge. I still cook regularly at home. I would say between my wife and I, I cook 65% of the time, she cooks 15% of the time, and we go out the other 20%. Whenever my friends or family have a cookout, everyone assumes I will cook everything. Which I normally do. This may sound conceded, but I would rather cook everything my way and know it will taste alright that let my friends overcook a poor innocent Rib-eye. My wife is planning on remodeling our kitchen; once that is completed, I will be sure to cook more often, and even blog about it.
Thank you for reading this boring story about how I learned how to cook. If you’re ever in central WI, you should check out one of Christian’s restaurants: Christian’s Bistro, Father Fats, or El Jefe’s Taqueria.