Topic: Your Career
Your Current Career
Q: Openings are always hardest, and growing pains can be feisty. At which restaurants were you on opening staff?
The "Rick Tramonto compound" in Wheeling, Illinois. I was hired as the chef for the steakhouse and RT Lounge. I was involved in opening four concepts in one hotel at one time. It was insane to say the least. That opening was like a dream team of chefs, and management team. Chris Pandel, Jared Van Camp Belinda Chang, Jeffery Ward, Lynn Gefke, and many more.
Q: Perhaps you dabble beyond your restaurant in other creative arenas? We're not suggesting you're a secret superhero, but you get our drift. Are you involved in other satellite businesses?
Not yet but I have books of great ideas.
Q: Nothing puts one's stamp on a dish or drink like a custom-made product. Perhaps your own bottle o' gin, your own hot sauce, etc. Have you developed any products? If not, would you like to?
We are currently working with Burton's Maplewood Farms in Medora, Indiana, to develop a signature syrup. Tim has procured bourbon barrels that he is going to age our syrup in. We are planning on putting the barrel over the chimney flute of the wood burning fireplace of his sugar house and smoking the inside of the barrel for a couple of days. We want to make a very unique syrup that is made especially for us ... I have also just finished a chef collaboration beer with Jared Rueben of Goose Island called "Fiona" that came out Memorial Day. It is named after my wife's childhood nickname.
So far ... A feature in Art Culinaire, our dinner at the James Beard House, and my current position at the Sofitel.
Q: The key to success is surrounding yourself with the best possible support team. In your daily routine, how do you teach or learn from your co-workers, employees, bosses?
Everything is a learning experience. I always try to hire what I don't know. I consider myself smart enough to admit my limits and areas I could learn more. I always try to find people that have the qualities I don't so that we can make a well rounded team. Even though I am the Executive Chef, I always try to give my team the freedom to make decisions on their own.
All of them. I can't think of anything in the kitchen that is learned the easy way. This is a hard life to live. I love what I do but would never suggest it to anyone. The life of a cook is a series of learning things the hard way. Whether it is learning how to make a station more efficient or designing a more streamlined kitchen from scratch, it is always learned by screwing up the first time.
When I was at McCrady's in Charleston, South Carolina, as the private dining chef I had a VIP party I totally screwed up. I made spanakopita a different way than I was supposed to and it all exploded when I backed them off. I was framing out and thought I was gonna vomit. I had to call my executive sous chef to come help me dig myself out of the trouble I was in. From then on I got tons of crap from everyone.
I would love to say that stuff doesn't matter but I would be a liar. Since I was 18 I have always wanted to be a James Beard Award winner. I think for me that is the most important.
Q: If you closed a restaurant during your career, what goes into the decision-making process to close a restaurant? Does it take a lot of thought, or is there a certain point where you just instinctively know?
My first chef gig was at this little restaurant in Savannah, Georgia. I was brought on board to help refine the quisine and bring in more customers. After about 3 months I was named General Manager/Chef. About 4 months later I had to talk the owner into closing the restaurant. It was was to far in the red to bring back.