First Night: All-Star Cochon Chefs Remember Their Pro Starts

Chef New York City

When Mark Ladner started cooking, he was surrounded by "drug addicts, pirates, ex-cons."

On July 24, Brady Lowe culminated three years of pork-fueled Cochon 555 events with All-Star Cochon, which featured 11 past winners/fan favorites and four renowned butchers in The Cosmopolitan’s Chelsea Ballroom. I asked all 11 chefs at the Super Bowl of Pork, “What was your very first night like working in a restaurant?

Mark Ladner (Del Posto)

It was debaucherous. I was a very young person, and when I started in this industry, it was much more similar to the glory days that Anthony Bourdain used to write about, where it was drug addicts, pirates, ex-cons. It was like mayhem every night. Thoughtful people didn’t choose this as a career. It’s amazing to see how much this industry has evolved in the last 20 years. It’s really cool.

Alex Seidel Fruition Restaurant

The very first night? Chaos. Trying to figure out which bowl or which plate went to which dish threw me for a loop. I was way over my head, but I kind of B.S.’d my way into a position I probably shouldn’t have started at.

Devin Knell (The French Laundry)

It was pretty crazy. It was pretty fun. I can’t give the name of the place that I worked at, but I was wearing shorts and one of the cooks was blowing a joint up into the hood. I was like a 16-year-old kid, I was like, “Wow, this is awesome.” Then I realized maybe I’d get some bad habits from working there, so I started taking it more seriously. It was so much fun, and a different environment. It was perfect for a misfit kid like me. There was a lot of learning to do, so I’d get a little panicky, make a lot of mistakes, but I had a lot of good guys when I first started working that took me under their wing and helped to set me straight. It was a good mentor program, but that was actually after those guys left that I started to figure out to take it more seriously, but it was fun.

Jeremy Fox (Vegetable Prospector)

I probably felt like I didn’t want to cook ever again, but I went back the next day…It was a restaurant in Charleston when I was in culinary school. It’s no longer there.

David Varley (Michael Mina Group)

It was the best day I ever had in the kitchen, but it was also one of the worst. It was crazy. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I also walked out of there knowing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life…The restaurant was Front Porch Grill in Newton, New Jersey.

Jamie Bissonnette (Coppa) / (Toro)

The first time I ever cooked in a restaurant? A shitshow. I got hit with a spoon. I got yelled at. I think I threw up, and considering I was straight-edge at the time, it was the first time I considered drinking…It was just a shithole restaurant in Hartford, Connecticut.

Andy Ricker (Pok Pok)

It was horrible. I was a dishwasher in a fondue restaurant, so I was covered with water from head to toe, and I was scrubbing out cheese-coated fondue pots. It was horrible… That was in Jeffersonville, Vermont.

John Stewart (Zazu)

My very night working in a restaurant? I would say it was fairly hellacious. I grew up working in my family’s catering company in New York. It’s been there for four generations. The first restaurant I worked at was the place Duskie and I met working at [Etta’s Seafood in Seattle]. I got a job, I had trained for like a day, and then I showed up on Friday night, and basically they fired the guy who was training me. And they’re like, “Are you good to go?” I thought I was fine for where I should have been in my training process, but I had to go totally solo on a station in a busy restaurant in Seattle…I sort of had my ass handed to me, but I was still there the next day, so it’s all good.

Chef Boston

Mary Dumont felt at home (and goosebumps) on her first night as a professional chef.

Mary Dumont (Harvest)

My very first night? I actually remember putting my uniform on. That was the first moment, I remember being in the locker room and putting the jacket on. I had goosebumps. I have goosebumps right now just talking about it…It was a no-longer-existing restaurant in San Francisco called Alta Plaza. I just remember feeling like everything was right in the world. I had the chef coat on, and I was a lot younger, and I just felt like this is what I’m supposed to do for the rest of my life.

John Sundstrom (Lark)

I started out as a dishwasher, so it was sort of mysterious, but also magical, and I was hooked right away…This was in a Japanese restaurant. I grew up in Salt Lake City and worked in a really great Japanese restaurant. This place was the first real sushi bar there and had a talented chef who got me going.

Stephanie Izard (Girl and the Goat)

The first chef that I worked for, Christopher Gross, in Arizona, was kind of a screamer. He was yelling at the guys on the line, saying, “Why are you guys trying to sabotage my restaurant!” And it freaked me the F out, so that’s how it was, but I decided that I would never be a screamer.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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