Chef and Owner, Restaurant 821 Market Street Bistro
Born a Chef, ...but not really
I was born and raised in a restaurant. My father was president of the Delaware Restaurant Association, a successful businessman and restaurant owner, but never wanted the restaurant life for his son. My father never encouraged me to enter the family trade. Looking back on it, it was those early years of my life that my love affair with the kitchen began. I can remember walking tiptoe through the kitchen just to see what was going on, my eye level just under the tabletops. Blue flames, the crash of aluminum saute pans, and the scary slicer, coincidentally located next to the first aid kit, were all fascinating to me. My initial memories of my father go hand in hand with the restaurant. If I was spending time with my father I was spending time at the restaurant All my father wanted for me was to get a quality education. “ Do you think I work this hard because I love it? It’s so you can have a better life!”. That was my father’s mantra, but no matter how many times he said it, I knew deep down that he did love it, and that I would be a restaurant lifer.
Detoured, but determined
I spent one year at the University of Delaware and decided it was not for me. Against my parents wishes I joined the United States Army. After thirteen weeks of B.I.T and A.I.T. I was O.M.W. (on my way) to a three-year tour of Hawaii. Total I spent five years in Hawaii, three years as an infantryman, Charlie company, 25th Infantry Division and two years as a college student at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, not quite sure as to what I wanted to do. I’m very proud to be a veteran, and for the service I performed for my country. The Army provided me with the regimented discipline that would serve me well later in my chef career. Missing my family I returned to Delaware to help my father with his latest restaurant venture.
Self Actualization and Discovery
I returned to Delaware to help my father in any way I could at his new restaurant. After much cajoling I convinced my father to let me take over the kitchen. “Do you know what you’re doing”, and “you don’t have the experience” were sentences I heard on a regular basis. I was determined not to let my father down, and I didn’t. I immersed myself in all things culinary. My first purchase, a Culinary Institute of America textbook. I used it as my ready reference, the answers to most of my questions; its tattered pages are still on my bookshelf today. I discovered early on one thing about myself, that I was really a good cook. A natural talent, I do not know, but it seemed like in a few short moments it all came together. I had found my calling, something that I was good at, something that would bring joy to my life. All my culinary heroes are self-taught chefs: Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter, Tom Collichio, the list goes on. I’m a firm believer that you do not need to go to culinary school to become a successful chef. You can teach anyone to truss a chicken, but you can not teach everyone to cook. To really cook, to be called a good cook is the highest reward of my job. One of the early highlights of my career was meeting Thomas Keller in Aspen, Colorado at the Food and Wine classic. I handed him my worn and tattered copy of the Bible (The French Laundry Cookbook). He smiled, “You just didn’t buy this did you”, “Nope”, was the only reply I could muster. The truth is I brought that book to work every day. He signed it; “it’s all about the finesse, all my best, Thomas Keller”. It is one of my most cherished possessions.
My Friend and Mentor
I knew I knew how to cook, but now it was time to learn how to work. With my father’s blessing I interviewed for a job with Tobias Lawry. I had followed the opening of Restaurant 821 through the amazing press it received in Wilmington and in Philadelphia and knew instantly I wanted to work for Tobias. I nailed the interview, was offered a job, and the rest is history. The past four years have been the best of my life. Tobias did teach me how to work, to work hard, but smart. The way I look at a simple perfect tomato, admiring its natural beauty, the farmer who grew it, and the soil it came from is all because of Tobias. He has provided me with all the tools to succeed; the tools needed to succeed in the kitchen, and to succeed in life. At 821 we talk about opportunities as chances to excel, to be excellent. I’d like to believe I’ve made the most of my opportunities.
Chef & Owner
When Tobias approached me about buying the restaurant it was like a fairytale, my dreams had come true; all of my hard work had paid off. I am very proud of my hard work, my accomplishments, and as owner hope to take the restaurant to a new level. I am very excited about this new chapter in the story known as 821.