Remembering the day when I said, "I want to be a Chef."
My first job as a cook was when I was 13 years old. I worked at a Tex-Mex restaurant called, Ginger Jo's. Originally it was an Italian tile store and showroom. But the owner decided that she wanted to do something different with her life. So she kicked out the back half of the store and built a full kitchen in its place. She put large tables in the front showroom where there was still tiles on display. People would come into the store completely confused on what was going on. I would have to chase them down and assure them that this was a restaurant. And from then on we sold tacos, burritos, nachos, rice and beans, guacamole, and whole bunch of other tasty treats.
Everything was home made, from the marinades for the meats all the way to fresh chips made every day. I got a chance to learn how things were made from scratch in a restaurant setting. At the time this was really exciting for me. I loved the fact that I could eat whatever I wanted, take home all the left overs, and that I was part of the daily creation. Never did I ever think that this is what I would be getting into. But I liked it... I liked it a lot. This was where I remember saying out loud to myself, "I want to be a chef". Little did I know that the life of a chef isn't a glamorous one. It's actually the opposite of that.
At Ginger Jo's I was the dishwasher, the cook, cashier, waiter, and all around grunt worker. But I loved it. I rode my bike 3 miles to work everyday after school and on the weekends. My boss loved me there, so that worked out for everybody. She really opened my eyes to so much at such an early age. I learned what it is to appreciate good flavor, a trained palate, knife skills, patience, discipline, and a strong work ethic. My boss was ex-military and ex-LAPD narcotics officer for 9 years. So she was a real bad ass woman who quite frankly was kinda nuts. But that's why I liked her so much. She wasn't going to sugar coat anything for me. She told it like it was. And that's the kind of teachings I needed at that age.
You could say that she prepped me for the future years that I would be spending in the depths of hell in kitchens all around the world. As a cook/chef you need to be ready for anything that comes at you. Everyday is a new day with surprises around the corner. Food never sleeps and neither do the people who want to eat it. There is always a sense of urgency that is riding through your veins when you are behind the line. That sense is the only thing that keeps you hungry for more action and more punishment. But it's not really punishment when you enjoy the pain. Cooking and food for that matter are the most important things in our lives. We need it to survive and we want to learn more every day about other cultures. That is the simple version of it all.
Basically, I started making tacos and chimichangas as a young boy and made my way up to being an executive chef in New York City. It was a hard road to travel with lots of bumps and bruises along the way. But I'm glad that I made it to this checkpoint so far. I can still remember the smells from that kitchen, oh man! The taste of the huge strips of marinated beef that just melted in your mouth, amazing! The massive piles of food that I would make myself during my break or to take home were just obscene, but I loved it anyway! Oh to be young again I say now. I could eat till I was stuffed to the gills and my dreams were still fresh and clear. Those were the days my friends. Those were the days!