Update: I now have a Tier 2 UK work Visa and am eligible to work in the UK. If you have a position available that you believe I would be well suited for, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Click here for a PDF version of my C.V.
I was a cook in my mother’s kitchen as far back as I can remember. Whether it was shooting almonds out of their skins for Christmas cookies or rolling meatballs, I spent a lot of time cooking at her side. She baked world-class cakes years before it became a reality show phenomenon. I distinctly remember cooking Rice-a-Roni pilaf for friends in middle-school, adding meats and vegetables, and improvising on every meal. We spent our summers going down to the Carolinas where I developed an insatiable appetite for Southern cooking and BBQ. By the time I was fifteen I had my first real ‘kitchen’ job, working behind the register and answering phones at Capriccio’s Pizza. Those guys were so successful they opened Capriccio’s II less than fifty steps down the road and have seen huge success at both places for about 15 years now. I helped them get that second spot open and learned important lessons about the business of food and service from the owners I worked alongside. I left my hometown and Capriccio’s without ever considering a culinary career until years later. By the time I got to culinary school I had taken classes in everything from acting, philosophy, anthropology and history, while holding jobs in television, the music industry, special needs counseling and yes, even a fire protection equipment distributorship. While working in Boston and looking at schools I came across Newbury College, a small school featuring a program in Restaurant Management and Culinary Arts.
The Early Boston Years
When I first applied to culinary school I was a little intimidated. I forgot that I knew anything about cooking and assumed I would be somewhere near the bottom of the barrel, struggling to keep up with the die-hards who were on a first name basis with every Food Network star chef and who read “The Joy of Cooking” while still in the crib. Yet, somehow, most of the others were either too immature to ever leave their jobs at Chuck E. Cheese’s, the egoists all expected to get rich and famous without trying and the die-hards knew a lot, but felt nothing.
I did well enough at school to be earning straight A’s for the first time in my life and went for my first restaurant interview with the chef/owner of a new restaurant about to open. I had never been on a restaurant interview before and was eager to please. I showed up in a hand-me-down Armani suit and long wool coat and was greeted by a chef in a dirty white coat. He and the sous-chef both laughed a bit at my overly formal outfit, but I rolled with the strides and promised to work my ass off if I got the job. Well, I became the pantry cook for La Morra, in Brookline, Massachusetts and had one of the best years of my life being indoctrinated into the crazy life of a cook. The opening line at La Morra consisted of five or six extremely talented and
seasoned cooks, who had all run their own kitchens before, and me, an unseasoned culinary student who tossed and fried his way through the gauntlet of a busy opening restaurant. I’ll never forget the rush of prep, the anxiety and excitement of service and the victorious sense of relief after a busy night. I quickly moved my way up to the hot line and took on the increasingly more difficult stations working the massive wood-fired grill, the technically precise pasta station and in the general’s chair on sauté barking out orders while working 8 burners as sous chef. I will probably spend the rest of my life seeking a high as good as a smooth night of service felt in those early days.
I continued to work the Boston restaurant scene. At the now defunct Perdix, we perfected the tongue-in-cheek Blunch, a Huey Lewis and the News fueled twist on the normally mild-mannered weekend tradition. The guys and gals I worked with at Perdix were some of the best in the business in Boston. The core staff from Perdix’s kitchen and I worked together over the years at VeeVee and the Biltmore and they have since gone on to open their very own, and hugely successful bar and restaurant, The Gallows in Boston’s trendy South End.
I also had the opportunity to work with a small catering company, City Farm Catering, where I worked on enormous events for non-profit groups as well as small family events. Catering isn’t really my thing, but the money was great and you got to work with different people, and always in different places. It was far from the excitement of the line, but it was a bit of calm and stress-free living to tide me over between restaurants while putting some much-needed cash in the bank to help pay off school loans.
LoBello’s Homestyle Italian Cuisine
I’ve always been ambitious, and early in my career I may have let that ambition take me a little too far. I could never regret the enormous opportunity I had in opening my business. It was my own little corner in the world and I naïvely thought that good cooking and a friendly atmosphere alone would be enough to overcome the difficulties of opening a small business by myself. Was it so wrong to open a New York style pizzeria and sandwich shop in the heart of Red Sox nation? I mean…Terry Francona, the Red Sox manager, was a regular customer of mine, wasn’t that enough?
I certainly can’t blame myself for giving up the business on anyone, least of all my customers. I’m pretty proud of the job I did there. In the end, I learned more in about running a business than I had ever hoped I could and put myself through the ringer to get a business off the ground. I was the chef, the gm, the delivery boy, the PR company and the accountant. We didn’t do all that bad, but I was a young kid who watched a lot of my life fall apart while I tried to get a business going and I just wasn’t happy. Knowing what I know now, I can’t wait to get back in a kitchen of my own again, and have another go at putting together a successful business.
To this day, I still have people remind me how they’ve never had a better sandwich in Boston, and old employees who write to tell me they still cook my recipes. It didn’t make me rich, and it didn’t make me feel any younger, but it was one hell of an experience.
Burning Out and Burning On
Letting my business go was tough, but I kept my head up and pushed myself to go back to school. After a year and a half of breaking my back and breaking the bank for LoBello’s I pushed myself to get back to school. I had slipped a disc in my neck running my business and it worried me about my future as a chef. I needed a fall back and a part of me was missing the mental workout of academia. I enrolled at UMASS Boston where I studied history and American studies, focusing on the historical development of American cuisine (specifically New York and New Orleans). I took part in a leadership program where I put together and ran a charity event to benefit victims of the earthquake in Haiti, where my grandfather was born and many of my cousins still live. I worked as a cook with some former colleagues and with other chefs on their recomendation. I helped out on busy nights, when someone needed a day off or quit unexpectedly, and I did a little catering on the side to keep the money rolling in. Eventually, I got a call from Rembs Layman, a chef that I had worked with on a catering job, who was having some trouble staffing his restaurant, Tupelo, which had just opened.
I started working for him on an on-call basis, but eventually came on as chef de cuisine. I helped reorganize the line and develop the menu, create schedules, develop a brunch menu, cut waste, reorganize schedules and train the kitchen staff. Together we worked through the early kinks of a business that is likely to flourish for years to come.
Sometimes You’ve Got to go South to get North
When I finally finished my time at UMASS, I said goodbye to the folks at Tupelo and made my way back home to New York, where I would eventually marry my high school sweetheart Kait. In the meantime, I found an intriguing ad for a sous chef position on Craig’s List. I wasn’t keen on going back to a sous chef role, but the ad was enticing and they sounded like my kind of people, so I went for it. This time, I left the suit at home and showed up as myself. I realized I was going to the interview in nice jeans, with a polo shirt and maybe too much stubble on my face, but felt right at home when I met Stephen, one of the principal owners, came downstairs in jeans, a polo, and sporting a little too much stubble himself. We hit it off instantly; spouting our views on local, seasonal and farm driven cuisine. He referred to me as a pirate, which I loved so much that I got a skull and ‘crossbones’ (knife and steel) tattooed on my arm. Meeting the chef, Eric ‘Bubba’ Gabrinowizc at my local BBQ joint turned out to be an equally gratifying interview process. We hit things off discussing everything from our favorite bourbons, beer and BBQ as any American chef is proud to do.
Together we helped open Restaurant North to enormous press and fanfare. On opening night we flawlessly executed a 7 course tasting menu for a crowd of friends, family, press and locals. Eric and I took trips to local farms and developed close relationships with local farmers, foragers and artisans. We had our share of celebrities dine with us as well; I cooked for Martha Stewart twice, Regis Philbin and even Judge Judy. In the year after I left, the secret service swept the restaurant before President and Secretary of State Clinton came in for dinner.
We had a great time getting the place open and turned what was a busy construction site when I started, into a very busy and successful restaurant. Eric went on to win Food and Wine’s People’s Choice for Best New Chef in the New York area and received a stellar review from the New York Times. Through an acquaintance of Eric, I interviewed for a position as the executive chef of PS450, located on Manhattan’s busy Park Avenue.
The Belly of the Beast
I created a new food program from the ground up at PS450. I retrained staff, established relationships with purveyors, got feedback from FOH staff and regulars, cut a 40% food cost down to a steady 28% and worked closely with the events department to maximize the ability of our menu to entice new clients and keep them coming back regularly.
Each space was a massive lounge/bar, and as is the case with most Manhattan establishments, they each had small and difficult kitchens. Despite difficulties we made it work and I put together distinctly different menus for each venue that showcased the strengths of each location, while maintaining common threads between them. Each location had a different menu for lunch, dinner and brunch, as well as several different menus for events including passed hors d’ouevres, stationary platters, and luncheons.
I delved into the business side of things with Park South Hospitality more so than with other restaurants in the past, aside from my own of course. The time I was there was a period of major transition for the company and we saw a lot of turnover from managers and events staff. I took it upon myself to fill in the gaps as best I could and would help the overworked managers by filling in on the floor for a lunch shift, or meeting with an events client when no one else was available. I directly sold two events at nearly $25k each and received resounding reviews for both events. The kitchen budget was minuscule and I ran all three kitchens as the sole chef and kitchen manager, hopping up and downtown between the venues as needed. I launched brunch at both PS450 and the Caulfield, featuring a $25 option for any item plus endless brunch drinks. It became a huge hit with enormous crowds filling the space, bumping our daytime food sales up by 60%. Within each location I became deeply involved in the re-branding and relaunching and expanded the food sales in a bar-heavy business.
One of the biggest challenges, in fact, was developing a menu for a space that wasn’t specifically dedicated to food sales. I was so used to being in chef driven restaurants, that taking a back-seat to the drinks was unfamiliar territory. Despite my good numbers at PSH, food rarely made up more than 26% of total sales, though that was up from 22% when I arrived (not including events). My job was devoted to crafting a menu that would draw in a lunch crowd, satisfy the happy hour crowd, keep the drinkers in the house and have them all come back hung over the next day for brunch….all while trying to sell them on an event. The managers and the owners needed all the help they could get, and I gained valuable experience helping to manage, guide and direct the company. I spent hours upon hours crafting new menus, promotional materials and ensuring the success of our bigger events. It felt good to really be running the show again and I enjoyed working for a larger company and having the room to grow.
Across the Pond
As you now know if you read the site, I’ve left for London to help my wife pursue her career and am now patiently awaiting my dependent work visa. I am currently developing relationships with several potential employers in London, but am open to network with anyone involved in the business here. If you would like to get in touch, click this link and reach me via the Facebook page or via the attached contact form.