MS: What was your pivotal moment in life that made you take this direction?
CK: In school there were mods. I was taking my first one on sauces and since I had a car, I stayed behind to continue learning with
MS: Where did it all begin?
CK: I remember sitting with my Dad one day, and he goes, “What are you thinking about doing for your life? You don’t want to sit around not doing anything.” He had just retired from being in the marines after 10 years, and I joked, “Maybe I am meant to be in the military or army.” My Dad laughed and responded, “No, I did this for both of us, you need to find something else!” Looking back, he really was the reason why I took this path. At the time I didn’t fully understand what it meant or that it was even a profession, or that you could go and study to work in kitchens. When he suggested I go to culinary school, I told him I would give it a shot. Though, I never cooked. I held a knife at home and helped my Mom cook but I never cooked in any kind of professional way. In 2005 I ended up enrolling in the New England Culinary Institute (NECI) in Montpelier, VT.
Chef Adina Alterie. She said, “If you continue working this hard, you will be a great chef one day.” Though I've always been supported by my parents, that moment was the first time, on a professional level, that I received that kind of encouragement from anyone. That’s when I realized words are powerful, especially for people who are undecided in life.
MS: How do you approach building a team?
CK: It has certainly evolved. The culinary culture today is much different than it was 15, even 10 years ago. Back then there was a lot of old school mentality of working hard, long hours, with no breaks, the chef never thanked you, there were high expectations, you were constantly being yelled at, stuff like that. Though I’ve had my fair share of yelling in the kitchen (not like Gordan Ramsey, but still yelling). Being under pressure was the culture. I grew and continue to grow, I am maturing and realizing there are alternate ways to speak with sincerity and communicate. Leading by example is the key to any successful individual.
MS: What is something you wish people knew about your industry?
CK: What I wish guests and customers understood, was to understand and better respect because of long hours and no breaks. I don’t think they understand how much work goes into that. Whether towards a server, or cook or an establishment. If you haven’t worked in hospitality you don’t understand what it is. If you don’t have the respect for that culture, patience is something I hope people strive to have more of for hospitality. There’s too many stories about short-staffed restaurants especially during the pandemic and the nasty remarks don’t help. There is a reason. Not that the owner doesn’t want to, but it is because they have to. Hospitality is in limbo. Though we are lucky to find the staff to operate the way we do and produce the food at a very high quality. They are like family to me, to see them grow, to try to teach, inspire and mentor, it’s more than just being a chef. Share that experience with other people. When the staff does well and succeeds, it makes me happy. That’s what every chef should strive for.
MS: What is your favorite quote and why?
CK: “A chef must think like a scientist, organize like an accountant, inspire and motivate like a warrior, move like a track star, plate like an artist, and cook like a grandma” - Unknown.
Numbers, budgets, all of that, you are a leader in the kitchen, so you want to inspire staff to work hard together. For yourself, to lead by example because if you don’t work hard your staff won’t work hard. You gotta be fast, think on your toes, and be creative. Everyone eats with their eyes first. It’s funny because you can make crappy food look really good. Plating matters! Not to say I wouldn’t eat somewhere the plating wasn’t beautiful, but I know they are serious about their food when they care.
MS: How do you think your culture influenced you?
CK: Looking back, I have more passion and drive. My father is French Canadian and grandfather from Denmark. I had a lot of Danish food, eating smorgsberg, and different types of Scandinavian food. My father met my Mom in the Philippines since he was stationed there. His friends and their wives were Filipino. THere was lots of pork fried rice, pancete like asian noodles, and chicken adobo. When I look back, it had a lot of influence on how important food is. For a gathering it brings people together when people eat and drink and have a good time, and I didn’t know it would play an important role. It was a diversity of food: Filipino food, Canadian food, and Scandinavian food. I have an eclectic view and taste palette and it certainly has helped me in my career. I’m not just focused on one profile, I have a wide range of experience and knowledge. Being exposed at a young age you just see a lot of people grow up without that diverse ethnic food palette and pairings. They become blinded. It has allowed me as a chef, like wow, everyone has unique flavors, and it inspires me to help me create dishes. Ginger is not only Asian, if you incorporate with diff techniques and French cuisine, whether Portuguese or Spanish, it’s really amazing diverse flavor profile. Not just for Asian food with soy sauce.
MS: What is the most valuable advice you’ve received?
CK: I get more inspired than anything, whether reading cookbooks or eating at restaurants, but I don’t really have a favorite advice to be honest. A lot of learning experiences and feelings. I have a lot of advice for people, but for me, I became a chef at a very young age. An executive chef at 25, so since then, it was 12 years of screwing up and learning from those experiences haha. I didn’t have a mentor or someone to go through so I had to inspire myself to do better and be better. I didn’t have another chef I could talk to or get advice from. It wasn't handed to me, I earned it. Hard work and dedication. You’ll get far in life. I never had that luxury to be given advice, I had to find it myself, because I went through my own path, I did it on my own. I figured it out, I have a lot of advice for people who want to be a chef. This is reality, I’m not going to fudge it, if you don’t like it you shouldn’t be a chef, and I don’t even work at a Michelin star restaurant. Can you imagine those high ceiling expectations? I couldn’t even imagine. I just don’t know if I could do it, let alone if I want to. I love the environment I’ve created. It’s fun, I saw people understand when business is business versus more fun, and at the end of night have a beer or soda or whatever it may be. That’s what it is. I’ve had to create my own path, and a lot of it was my own failures and successes.
MS: Looking back on life, how have you or values shifted or refined?
CK: If anything they’ve just matured. I’m doing a better job understanding people, whether personally or professionally. I was at a point in life where I didn’t care, and had the mentality: “If you didn’t want to do the job, then don’t be here”. Since then I’ve developed more compassion for people and what they are going through, because I’ve been through a lot myself. I have a lot more respect than I used to. I believe in the mantra: “Respect is not given, it’s earned.” But no matter what, people who come in for the job, and do the work, deserve at least that much.
“I hope it inspires others in the same boat or same path that working hard pays off and you gotta do the grunt work first and you’ll reap the benefits in the end. Success isn’t going to be handed to you on a plate, so you gotta go get it!”
MS: What is your definition of success?
CK: My definition of success is more on a personal level. I always told myself, if I walk into work and it feels like a job, then I’m not loving it anymore. Now I feel like, if you’re happy doing what you’re doing, you love inspiring and teaching, and, speaking as a chef, you’re producing food at a high quality you’re happy with... That’s success to me. Success has nothing to do with awards or winning competitions. I’ll go into a competition and feel I produced the best food I could, I think, “if I win I win, if I don’t I don’t.”