This is a quote I frequently heard from Chef Reilly. He made sure to push everyone in class everyday. From the start of day one until now, my second to last day of Modern Banquets, I have enjoyed every second of class.
Day one I was greeted by a drill sergeant. A baritone voiced chef who shouted simple commands and watched us scurry around the kitchen.
He led with very few words and refused to answer any of our simple questions. “Chef, where is the cilantro?” , a student would ask, “I don’t know.” , chef would respond.
Chef Reilly started as tough chef but as our class began to work, it seemed that he started to loosen up. It started with a joke here and there, and after the first week, I think chef knew what our class was really about. Nearly 3 days into class chef called my team over. “Alright folks, you are going to be having a potato peeling contest. There can only be one winner.” We went through the motions and after a few rounds he said, “Alright, Liz, step forward. Everyone walk to the left one station and setup. ” This was were I first heard those words. “I have seen you work with your tools, but a true champion can win on anyone’s grass.” What chef had done was have us jump over one station and he had us using our neighbors peeler. The contest went on and Liz was crowned as champion. I had only acquired one win and I was placed in the final round where I had a DQ. Chef really showed us who we was and how much he liked teaching.
About half way into the block chef dropped a huge class compliment. We were sitting down for lecture and he said “You guys really know your stuff, you make me happy to teach again.” The fact that chef had bestowed this compliment meant so much more then the words. He had said that our class was one of the best he’s taught in some time.
Chef treated us like young chefs. We were not afforded the convenience of pity nor help. We were trained to work on our own and Chef made sure that we stayed on that course. He made nothing easy and would bluntly let you know if you had failed. He did not mask how he felt about the work we did. He watched us cook with great pride.
I was pleasantly surprised in class today when chef took about 5 minutes to speak to me privately. It wasn’t like my class couldn’t hear us but as I emptied a 2.5 gallon jug of oil into the fry-o-later we had a brief chat. “So why do you want to be a cook?” Chef asked me. My reply was simple “I want to be a food critic, but I want to get as much experience as possible.” Chef looked at me for only a second. “You know whats good?” He paused waiting for any response, but before I could get anything out he said “Many people who like food and think they can write become food critics. It nice to see that someone who knows how to cook and wants to learn how to become better actually want to write. You seem to know what you’re doing.” I was very pleased but I knew that I wanted to get any information I could. “Do you have any tips,” I asked. His repose will forever be helpful, “Well you have to think of how to springboard, you know, where will this job help me get to in 10 years, 5 years.” He paused and then continued “You have to think about how to get their yourself.” He went on to tell me how I needed to make an initiative to develop a network. I had to be the one that went and met other food writers and learn how they got to where they were. He even made the suggestion that while in Ireland, which I will discuss in a later post, that I try to find someone there who I can talk to.
Chef gave me a wealth of information because he knew that I could use it. I really enjoyed modern banquets, even though I was often told to smile. Chef taught me how to think on my own and really pointed me towards the first point in my career.
Nathan J. Buckley