Food & Drink

Famous chefs give advice to the next generation

Everyone has things they wish the could tell the younger version of themselves. For many cooks, it's simply to be extra careful when chopping green onions on September 4th, 2009, because you're going to lose a substantial part of your thumb.

But for some broader words of wisdom, we polled a group of famous chefs who've successfully navigated the industry with 10 digits (mostly) intact. Here's the advice they wish they had received early in their careers, and that they hope today's crop of young talent will take to heart.


Tony Mantuano

Spiaggia (address and info)
Chicago, IL
“It’s important to look at tradition and culture for inspiration. Look to the past to move forward. Go and spend time in the region of the cuisine you're interested in. Learn the techniques and how local chefs are modernizing their own culinary traditions. See how people actually live. That experience will certainly come through in your food and help create a unique point of view.”

knife sharpening
Dan Gentile

Ludo Lefebvre

Petit Trois (address and info)
Los Angeles, CA
"First, make sure to learn how to use a knife. Speed is crucial, because in the kitchen we are always in the weeds."

Mindy Segal

Hot Chocolate (address and info)
Chicago, IL
"Keep your head down, ears open, and do not lose focus of the fact that you're working to learn a craft that takes a lifetime to master."

Tim Love

Lonesome Dove (address and info)
Dallas, TX
"Learn as much as you can from as many people as you can. Don’t worry about the future, just live in the now and work hard.”

fancy salad
Dan Gentile

Jon Shook

Animal (address and info)
Los Angeles, CA
"Go out to eat a lot. It's important to see what others are cooking. It trains and develops your palate,  and also offers inspiration. This was the best piece of advice given to me from my first mentor, Michelle Bernstein (of Michy's in Miami)."

Vinny Dotolo

Animal (address and info)
Los Angeles, CA
"Have fun. Take notes. Listen more than you talk. Travel. Spend all of your money eating food that you're interested in. It will pay you back 100 times over."

Tyson Cole

Uchi/Uchiko (address and info)
Austin, TX
"What we do is a privilege. It's amazing, and we have fun doing it, but sometimes we get too into the process. We can forget that we're all here because we're feeding people, and that we only have the freedom to cook because the guest pays the bill."

Josh Capon

Lure Fishbar (address and info)
New York, NY
"This also goes for whatever it is you do in life, but the advice I wish I had gotten earlier in my career is to maximize every experience and own it! Absorb it, write about it, keep a journal, and relive it. For me, in regard to cooking, a perfect example is when I was in culinary school and took a bread-making class for nine days. I thought I should be able to jump in the kitchen and make a loaf of bread, but I couldn't, and it pissed me off. Make any little experience you have count! If you spend a day in a four-star kitchen, go home, open a book, and write about everything you saw, smelled, touched, prepped, cooked, and ate. When you look back on it, you should be able to taste everything all over again."

Brian Malarkey

Searsucker (address and info)
San Diego, CA
"A wise chef once told me, 'don’t count the pennies you're saving, count the dollars you're making'. Also, consistency is king. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Pace yourself."

Daniel Holzman

The Meatball Shop (address and info)
New York, NY
"Always ask yourself why you're doing something that particular way. We can all learn how to do things, but if you figure out why, you will be way ahead of the game. And remember, if it doesn't taste good, nothing else matters. Taste is first."

Charlie Palmer

Aureole (address and info)
New York, NY
"Make it your goal to learn the entire business of restaurants, not just what goes on behind the kitchen doors. It's a dynamic and robust operation. The more you know, the more successful you'll be as a chef, restaurant manager, or operator/owner."

Michael Ferraro

Delicatessen (address and info) and Macbar (address and info)
New York, NY
“It takes a similar amount of time to become a chef as it does to become a doctor. To get the executive title on your coat, you need to be prepared to train and study in the right establishments for eight to 10 years before being fully able to run your own show. I feel that recent culinary school graduates these days are too eager to prematurely run their own restaurants.”

Jeff Michaud

Vetri Restaurants (address and info)
Philadelphia, PA
“I think the best advice you could give to someone starting their culinary career would have to be the truth. You are going to work long hours, usually over 75 hours a week. You’re going to miss every birthday: yours and everyone else’s. You’re going to work every holiday and weekend and lose friends because they don't understand why you work so much. But you will also make new friends at your restaurant. It's a demanding business, but if you embrace it, it's very rewarding.”

Steven Redzikowski

Acorn (address and info)
Denver, CO
“Relax and breath. Take your time, slow down, and realize where you are. Enjoy the moment.”


Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's National Food and Drink team. His advice to young chefs would be to bookmark this story! Follow him to more web-browsing tips at @Dannosphere.