I grew up in Newport News, Virginia. I started my journey into the industry pretty much the same way everyone has, breaking my back day to day scrubbing dishes in the hot, wet, bottomless pit of under-appreciation. I remember working during weekend rushes, hearing the barrage of different sounds pulsating from the line. Pots banging, pans sliding over the flattops, knives chopping, oven doors slamming, cooks screaming at each other, the expeditor calling orders in the midst of the chaos in such harmonic fashion, and the universality unmistakable sound of that God-forsaken ticket printer that follows seasoned chefs to their dreams. Call me crazy, but I knew right then and there, that was what I wanted to do with my life.
I knew that no one was going to just GIVE me a cooking job straight from the pit, so I worked my way over step by step. Asking the chef if I could pick up extra hours doing simple prep, went to helping out on garde manger, to filling in on Chef’s weekends (Monday’s and Tuesday’s).
I’ve always had the ability to pick up new tasks very quickly and strive for perfection. After learning every station, recipe, and function of the kitchen inside out, it hit me that I wasn’t happy just being another body in the kitchen. There was nothing in it for me. I learned everything this one restaurant had to teach me to the point it just became meaningless repetition. I went from envying the cooks on the line the envying the cooks I see on tv. That’s when I realized it was time to broaden my culinary experiences. I had to up my game.
I landed my next job at a fine dining bistro in Williamsburg, Virginia called Fat Canary. It wasn’t until working under the guidance of Chef Tom Power that I quickly realized I knew absolutely NOTHING about cooking. The experience of an actual “scratch” kitchen was overwhelming, but my passion to learn as much as I possibly could before I got fired drove me. (Side note: I didn’t get fired)
I learned so much in so little time just from my will to get better and better.
Then it happened…….
It was a Friday night. 120 on the books. I’m minding my business, prepping my garde manger station ready for a night of slinging seared ahi and foie gras, when word came down that the grill chef was sick so everyone had to slide down a station. I’ve always admired the sauté station, lending assistance where I could, and knew that one day I would dominate it…. however I didn’t expect that day to be on a busy Friday night with zero formal training.
So after almost burning the kitchen down when I got super nervous on my very first order by knocking a 6 pan of beurre blanc onto a open flame, I recouped and eventually made sauté my permanent station which drove me to see cooking as a career, rather than just a job.
VA to the Bay
I have family out west and would visit whenever I could, seeing that the industry doesn’t really allow for much time off outside of Monday and Tuesday. But whenever I did visit, it was like an entirely different world. In southeastern Virginia, good scratch kitchens are very scarce. But the Bay Area has them literally on every corner. The chance to learn and gain new experiences prompted my decision to permanently move to California. There I would work for several highly skilled chefs such as Bob Cina of District Oakland, SF, and San Jose.
So the chef life is fun, we can all agree. When you love cooking, it doesn’t really feel like much of a job. But there’s the dark side that no one better than the late Anthony Bourdain ever really talks about. Nights, weekends, and holidays for a cook is non existent. Taking vacations are impossible, not just because it’s hard to get the time off, but contrary to what our high priced knife sets may indicate, cooks do not get a very good portion of the high priced masterpieces we work hard to serve day in day out. It’s a tough lifestyle where I’ve personally witnessed the weak fall into alcoholism and drug abuse. Everything that glitters is far from gold. That being said….
It wasn’t until the “offseason drought” of 2017 that I made a decision they would change my life. I was working at a high volume restaurant in San Francisco when the drought hit and I talked to my chef about picking up a second job until business picked back up. That’s when he told me about Pared. At first I found it entirely too good to be true. I’m currently making $18 an hour almost killing myself while some of the jobs listed are offering $23 an hour just to do prep work. (Who they think they fooling?) But I gave it a go. And when those deposits started coming in, I was hooked. I have been working through this amazing company ever since.
The amount of experience I’ve gained this past year would’ve never been possible working in a permanent kitchen. Not just the different styles of cuisines that the Bay has to offer, but the experiences of some of the places I’ve worked. Million dollar weddings, huge music festivals, Instagram and other top tech events, even cooking for the Oakland Raiders at their team meetings.
Making more money than I’ve ever made in my life and being able to make my own schedule finally helped me to achieve my lifelong dream of traveling abroad and tasting food from other countries. I just recently came home from traveling Europe and immediately got right back to work so that I can plan the next one.
Pared made living a normal life as a chef possible. I no longer have to ask for permission, then wait 2 weeks for a response when I want a few days off. If I want nights, weekends, and holidays off, I get them off. Just like if I want to work 3 weeks straight with no breaks. If my knees are up to the challenge, so be it. I wouldn’t change this job for the world. 12 years in this industry and I can finally get a good nights sleep without having my dreams haunted by that God-forsaken ticket printer.