Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Interview That Changed My Life

Disclaimer: This blog is a chronological story that outlines some of my past struggles and triumphs over the years with building a successful restaurant. If this is your first visit to my blog I suggest starting with the oldest post for a better understanding and a more enjoyable read . 

One week after the chef announced that he was  moving on and  promised to help with the  transition, he left me all alone --  on a Friday night. “No call/ no show,” as we say in the business. It’s common in the hospitality industry, but to this day it still boggles my mind. Although it was stressful at the time, I now realize it really wasn’t that big of deal. The chef was useless in the kitchen and didn’t have a good work ethic. Work ethic is something that you either have or don’t and usually can not be taught. He didn’t! After he left us in the lurch, I utilized the staff I had to pull off the weekend the best I could and began my hunt for a new chef.

I placed one ad in the Sunday paper and received about 100 resumes. I started weeding through the deluge of applicants not really knowing what I was looking for. I narrowed the field down to what I considered the 5 best and brought them in for interviews.

I was about the worst possible interviewer. I had limited knowledge of food and how to run a kitchen… let alone a restaurant. I picked what I believed were the best two candidates to come back and cook for me. The first one came in and looked to have what I thought was some nice ingredients. I was excited and invited another friend who was a chef to sit in on the meal and help me judge. I knew we were in trouble at the first course. The chef came to the table to deliver a raw tuna appetizer. As he put the plates in front of us, I couldn’t believe what I saw. The tuna was served in a bowl that had a fishbowl for the base and a live Beta fish swimming around in it. I felt like troglodyte eating raw fish while watching its cousin swim in a cage. Needless to say this wasn’t the chef for me.

The second chef came in on another day and prepared a very solid meal. Although I didn’t feel any real social connection with this person, his skills were good and I believed he was the best choice. Just as I was about to hire him, , I received a few more applications and one did stand out. The name was familiar to me. It was chef that my old chef had spoken about often and I knew he was highly regarded. I figured what could it hurt? So I brought him in for an interview.

He was very refined, charismatic and extremely knowledgeable. We hit it off instantly.  He asked me questions that no other chef had asked. He was the first chef to ask about the kitchen and if he could take a tour. Walking around the kitchen he opened and inspected every refrigerator and freezer. In a very thorough but thoughtful and informative manner, he pointed out many of the former chefs short comings. . As he continued his probe I saw him shaking his head in disgust as he found boxes of quick fix mixes and containers of instant bases. He informed me that my former chef worked for him for years and he was very disappointed in how he handled his kitchen. 

He finished his tour and we sat back down to chat some more. He told me he had been cooking for years and mentioned some big name French chefs he worked with. He was trying to impress me but I had no idea who they were. He said he was in the middle of a rough divorce and that he had been bartending for the last two years. He was ready to get back in the kitchen and thought that a suburban restaurant would be a good fit to ease back into the scene. I told him my story and how I was stuck in a difficult situation. Then he said something to me that I will never forget. He said “I am not interested in being here long-term. I can only guarantee I will be here for 1 year. But, I will bring you into the kitchen and teach you what you need to know so you won’t get screwed again.”

I had a really good feeling and I decided to have him come back and cook and for my wife and me. He prepared a five course tasting. I don’t remember everything I ate that day, but I do know it was food I had never tried and any ort(remaining crumb)left on the plate was only because I missed it. I remember eating scallops, lobster and oxtail. I remember flavors and textures that blew me away. I remember for the first time being so excited about food I wanted to explore more. I remember the start of new-found passion and a relationship that would grow from applicant to chef to mentor to best friend. Needless to say I was totally enthusiastic about hiring him and beginning a whole new journey.


  1. LOVE this post!! (Don't mind me as I catch up on your blog from start to finish!)

  2. Wonderful stuff. Bundle of thanks!!!
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  3. Hey John,
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