I grew up in Buffalo, and when I was 16, I happily fell into a top-end restaurant, Mindy’s Wine Cellar. They paid me a buck-62 an hour to keep the dish room sparkling clean.
And when they needed a cook, they threw me in the kitchen.
When I told my parents I was going to chef school, there was silence. They were good people, but they weren’t fancy.
I became chef at Sutton Place when I was in my late 20s.
I just understood food on a really basic level and I was very innovative for my day.
The challenge in the restaurant business is the shrink.
You have to instil in employees that if you have venison in your hand or you have fiddleheads in your hand, you may as well have a handful of money, because that’s what it is.
Our kitchens are nice places to work, but they’re aggressive-we’ll do 800 covers on a Saturday at One. When you teach a young person how to do a good job under pressure, you’ve given them their greatest gift as a chef.
Seventy-five per cent of my senior managers are female. They get paid the same as male managers. I’ve never been the screamer in the kitchen, and I’ve never tolerated that type of behaviour. There’s enough anxiety in the business without that.
Not every chef is built to be an owner, but it’s not rocket science.
The hardest learning curve of my life was learning retail-I lost quite a bit of money on my grocery store, McEwan, in the first few years.
Conrad Black was the only client I was afraid to talk to, because he’d look at you like, “What are you doing at my table?” But I thought what he did in prison was brilliant.
Our industry is full of snobs. I always say they live vicariously through expensive wine labels.
A lot of kids today are getting into the business because they see the celebrity side of being a chef, but I don’t take TV seriously. You’re like the local weatherman-you have a bit of celebrity, but you’re still only as good as your last meal.
I was talking to a producer at my ski club and told him we should do a show about our catering business. So we did a party in Niagara-50 super-high-end people under a tent. We screwed up everything. It was like the Keystone Cops meet the Three Stooges. It was the worst day of my life. The TV network thought it was magic.
It’s funny—I never, ever thought we were making a brand.
There’s nothing wrong with growing a company, as long as you continue to do a good job. People are 80% of it. If you don’t have a great troupe of servers and cooks, you’re done.
It sounds pretentious, but if I had to choose my favourite meal, I’d have a six-ounce can of good caviar with crème fraiche, Spanish onion, chives and a lemon wedge on the side. That is the most glorious thing to eat on the planet.
I’m 60 years young. If I was retired and home all the time, my wife would throw me out. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.