You know what it takes to be a cook in L.A.? Self-sacrifice. I left Virginia to come to L.A. because there’s a certain energy that translates to the food scene here that I haven’t found anywhere else. I work at Mélisse, which is a 2 Michelin star French fine dining restaurant in Santa Monica, California, and it’s one of the best restaurants in L.A. Working on the line in the kitchen is like composing a symphony. It really is. It’s almost like each dish is — like one is the violins, one is the cello, one is the keyboard, and another is the drums. My first job in the kitchen was when I was
sixteen. I was a dishwasher. And that was before I even knew I wanted to cook. I was just a kid looking for a job. After I started working there and seeing something as simple as salad being plated, it kind of drew me in. I said this is pretty amazing. As sous-chef at Mélisse, I have to go to the farmer’s market first thing in the morning, pick up produce, go back to the restaurant, disperse it to the staff, and then we start
prepping. We have to get fish deboned, tomatoes concasséd, sauces simmering. All this has to ready before service at 6 o’clock. “Fire menu prawns, menu truffle pasta, two menu seasonal, followed by menu duck – medium rare…” Working in the kitchen is one of the hardest jobs I’ve had in my life. You’re under this constant stress. And on top of that, you’re working long hours, you’re on your feet all day, and it’s just completely physically and mentally straining. And most people can’t
handle it. But I love it. “See how beautiful that looks? And we sear it off nicely. It also protects halibut being so delicate. It helps protect the flesh.” Chef Josiah Citrin is one of the most renowned and respected chefs in L.A. and it was only natural that I would want to come and work for him. He’s almost like the epitome of an old school French chef relocated in the U.S. He has that passion, that drive, and intensity that you come to expect from great chefs like himself. One day I was in the kitchen and I was scrambling eggs and this memory kicked back to me from my grandmother and how she taught me how to properly scramble eggs when I was a little kid. And she was explaining how you use a spoon to stir it and cook it really gently so that the texture comes out nice. And it’s actually a classical French way of cooking and I have a southern grandmother. It was kind of weird. And, it was like little moments like that I think back that kind of directed me to cooking that I didn’t really realize until now. If you want to be a chef, you can’t wait around for someone to hand it to you. You almost have to take it. Hosting pop-up dinners has given me and my friend Gary a chance to not only showcase our skills, but do what we were trained to do: be a chef. “For the oyster dish, I was thinking right, we have those nice clear bowls. We’ll put the garnish in the middle and then pour the gazpacho so it comes like two thirds of the way up.” “I brought a fish tank bubbler. And instead of making foam with the frother, let’s do bubbles.” “And we’ll just drop right that on top.” “I just want to thank everyone for coming
out tonight. As you know, we’re just cooks when it boils down to it. That’s our life. This is what we do. This is what we love to do on our free time. We just spent our last few off days preparing this for you and we had a lot of fun doing it. So, cheers to the night.” I always have this sense of satisfaction and
almost comfort in knowing that something I served pleased someone else. And I think that’s what most cooks thrive on.