What 8 Famous Chefs Wish They Could Tell Their Younger Selves
Watch your hands
Chefs have some of the most notoriously jacked up hands of any profession. It's no wonder they'd wish their younger selves took better care.
"Don't shuck oysters when you're nervous. Quite simply, I have done more damage to my hands shucking a few oysters than pretty much anything else. And if you do it under pressure or in a hurry, watch out!"
—Alex Guarnaschelli (Butter, New York City)
And your eyes
Every young culinary dreamer has to be prepared to cut metric tons of onions.
“Hey kid, don’t be too cool for goggles. My first kitchen job was to peel a sack of onions. When you’re finished you peel another one. And then you end up spending the entire day peeling onions for the chef. In the moment, tears rolling down my face (onions produce the chemical irritant known as syn-propanethial-S-oxide, which stimulates the eyes' lachrymal glands so they release tears). It’s hard to understand there is a reason behind it. But guess what, I can cut onions really, really well now and I appreciate the importance of finishing an apprenticeship under the right tutelage and building a strong foundation of skills -- I just wish I had got myself a damn pair of goggles.”
—Curtis Stone (Maude, Los Angeles)
Enjoy the little things
For young cooks, the hours can make your whole life feel like the kitchen and nothing else.
I used to take myself a little too seriously. I think that burying yourself in work is something that everyone does, which is great, but as my father-in-law says you gotta stop and smell the roses. I don’t think I did that until I was an adult.”
—Michael Solomonov (Zahav, Abe Fischer, Federal Doughnuts, Dizengoff, Philadelphia)
"I just wish I had got myself a damn pair of goggles.”
- Curtis Stone
It may be the only way you'll grow.
"Once in culinary school, a teacher told me to 'stick with what I know' after I had burned some turnips by cooking them in sweet soy -- an ingredient I had never used before. Looking back on that day, I would have told myself to throw out that advice. By NOT sticking to what you know as a chef, you let yourself fail and make mistakes, which is necessary in growing and building confidence. In order to learn, land on that brilliant idea, or perfect a dish, you have to try new things, make mistakes, and keep adapting."
—Jenn Louis (Lincoln, Sunshine Tavern, Portland)
Beware live animals
Not everything is going to get delivered dead...
"I used to work at a restaurant that served eel and we had to regularly pour salt on a hundred pounds of live ones to kill them before cooking. They completely freak out once the salt is poured, so you have to make sure to secure the lid with a heavy object on top.....let’s just say, the best way to be sure to have that heavy object on top is to forget it once. Those eels are a bitch to get back in the bin. Once they got knocked over and we had a hell of a time picking them up. Ugh! Never slack off when live animals are involved."
—Scott Conant (DOCG Enoteca and Corsair, Las Vegas and Miami)
When your life isn't about the kitchen, it may get a little too focused on the bar.
"Get more sleep and don't stay out so late is what I would tell my younger self. Staying out until 5am is not conducive to being a part of the working world! While building my culinary career in Spain and then in New York City, I would frequently go out after my shift to party with colleagues. As a result, my mornings were oftentimes pretty rough. These days, 10pm is a late night for me. A good night's sleep translates into extremely productive mornings and days."
—Jose Garces (Amada, Volver, Philadelphia)
"Never slack off when live animals are involved." —Scott Conant
“I'd tell myself to take care of my body and health. Maybe I'd still have working joints. Working in restaurants is fast-paced and hard on your body, so sitting down every once in a while, even getting more massages or stretching -- these are things I would tell my younger self.” —Anita Lo (Annisa, New York City)
Try not to end up in the hospital
That's just sound advice no matter what.
“Never scale a fish in a hurry. It might lead to cutting yourself by accident, having an allergic reaction to the fish (in my case it was a Thai Snapper), and ending up in the ER.”
—Michael White (Marea, Osteria Morini, Ai Fiori, Nicoletta, Costata, New York City)