First Night: L.A. and Central Coast Chefs Remember their Starts

Chef Los Angeles

M.B. Post chef-partner David Lefevre represented the South Bay at Wally's Wine.

On July 31, Wally’s Wine hosted their 8th Annual Central Coast Food & Wine Celebration in Westwood, benefiting the Michael Bonaccorsi Scholarship Fund at the UC Davis Department of Viticulture & Enology. Several leading chefs from Los Angeles and Central Coast restaurants staffed booths, and I asked 10 of them two questions, including “What was your very first night like working in a restaurant?” Their responses might surprise you.

David LeFevre (M.B. Post)

It was intimidating. It was fast. Everybody was faster than I was, more organized than I was, communicated differently than I did, but it was enthralling. Right away I was hooked. There’s a pace and an intensity that really blew me away. The first professional restaurant kitchen I worked in was Charlie Trotter’s. I was there for 10 years, so they got me at the hook.

Micah Wexler (Mezze)

My first night? For me it was kind of an eye opening experience. I sort of fell in love with it in the first minute, the energy and adrenaline of the whole situation. Remember, I started when I was 15. I used to come home all the time and just tell my parents all these stories, it was crazy all the things that were going on. It was great, just a super high energy environment. I loved it.

What was the name of the restaurant?

It was Vincenti, and Gino Angelini was the chef there at the time.

Chefs Los Angeles

Suzanne Tracht and partner Preech Narkthong make frequent appearances and charitable culinary events.

Suzanne Tracht (Jar)

That was really a long time ago. I can’t even remember what I had for dinner or breakfast yesterday, but I’m sure it was very exciting, but also very scary and intimidating at the same time.

Where was it?

Professional kitchen? In Arizona, at the Arizona Biltmore hotel.

Clark Staub (Full of Life Flatbread)

It was mine. It definitely was trial by fire. It was in a bakery that I started, that I founded, and I’d only ever baked six, eight loaves of bread at a time, and within a week we were doing a couple thousand in a day, getting no sleep. It was definitely trial by fire, but after four years of doing that, and eight years now with Flatbread, I have a reputation for being extremely calm amongst the storm. As you know, sometimes in the restaurant business, it can be extremely stormy. We keep up now.

Greg Murphy (Bouchon)

Pretty stressful. All new, different, fast paced.

Where was it?

Intermezzo, Wine Cask.

Brandon Hughes (Wine Cask)

Very, very, very stressful. I actually remember my very first night. I was working at a small restaurant called Epiphany and at the end of the night, the chef asked me if I really wanted to cook for a living. He said I had one more opportunity to come back and really pull my game together, and if not, maybe I wasn’t cut out for being in the kitchen.

Matt Nichols (Brothers Restaurant at Mattei’s Tavern)

Nerve wracking. Very nervous. I’ve always been the type of person that’s so concerned about the product going out, even when I came here today, for the first 15, 20 minutes, I could feel my heart pumping. I get nervous any time there’s pressure on to put out a meal.

What was the restaurant where you worked that first night?

It was a restaurant called Aunt Maude’s in Ames, Iowa…Probably the most nerve wracking nights were at Spago, back in the early ’90s.

Josiah Citrin (Melisse)

The first night was pretty difficult. I burned my hand, grabbed a hot pan out of the oven.

Where was it?

It was called the Wave restaurant. It was on Main Street with Claude Segal. 1986.

Chef Paso Robles

Chris Kobayashi and brother Mike run seasonal gem Artisan in Paso Robles.

Chris Kobayashi (Artisan)

Oh my goodness, it was pretty rough. Being green in a kitchen is pretty rough because every person needs to do their job, and if they don’t, the whole kitchen goes down south. Needless to say, it was pretty rough, but I got through it and just keep plugging away at it. It gets better and better.

Where was it?

It was at Roy’s in San Francisco. I was getting yelled at.

David Lentz (The Hungry Cat)

It was pretty inspirational. It was pretty great. I was actually going to culinary school at the same time I started working. I got a job when I was going to culinary school, and I actually ended up enjoying working in the kitchen a lot more than I enjoyed going to culinary school, so I dropped out of culinary school. It was just very awe inspiring, the camaraderie and the sense of accomplishment at the end of each day. Even though I was making $6 an hour, it was pretty awesome. That’s the reason I kind of stuck with it.

What was the restaurant and what was the culinary school?

It was Antrim 1884 in Taneytown, Maryland, and I went to Baltimore International Culinary College.


Joshua Lurie

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

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