I started cooking at a very young age. My mother and grandmother taught me how to season meat, prep and cut veggies for meals, and they talked to me about how things should taste, and what to look for in flavoring dishes.
Very early in my childhood my mother noticed how I would watch food intensely. She and my aunt would laugh at the way I would stare down a plate of food. They said I would “devour it with my eyes.” I like to think of that as the beginning of discovering my palate. Even though then I didn’t know what I was doing consciously, my instinct was kicking in.
Not everyone can look at something and be able to taste it before they actually consume it. I didn’t know how big of a gift or talent that was, but it’s helped me big time in the kitchen.
My first run at seasoning a complex dish was around junior high school. My mom makes an amazing chicken-and-seafood Gumbo, but my pre-teen palate had outgrown the mildness of the dish. So, one afternoon while she was out and the pot was simmering on the stove, I took a little saucepan, dished out a man-sized portion, and kicked up the heat to my liking. I ate it before she came home! It was delicious, but of course I didn’t have the courage to tell her I had altered her already-perfect Gumbo. Long story short, now she asks me to make it for her!
The Gumbo story doesn’t end there.
Many years before I had any professional cooking experience, in my early 20s, I once sold Gumbo in a small café in Emeryville, California.
At the time, I had a security gig at a building up the street. I would go to the café on my break for coffee and lunch, and chat with the owners. I told them I had a thing for cooking, and asked if they would sample my Gumbo. They did, and they loved it! So, my mother-in-law made flyers for me that I posted for the tenants I was working.
The Gumbo sold out the same day, every time I made it. It was my very first experience of the public eating and enjoying my food. I said to myself, “Okay, there’s the validation. So now I gotta go to school for this!”
I went for a tour of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, but at that time, it was clear that I didn’t have the available hours outside of work, or the funds, to make that happen.
Then, in 2003 my wife and I decided to pack up and move from the San Francisco Bay Area to Pasadena, California. Instead of cooking school, I’d work my way up from the bottom in the restaurant business. A friend down south hooked me up with a job at a small catering company: a lot of heavy lifting, a little prep work, not much kitchen action. I tried shopping myself around to restaurants, but they wanted to see some basic industry skills on my resumé, not basic home kitchen skills. It turned out that “I’m willing to learn” and “I’m willing to work hard,” were not enough of a qualification.
I went back to what I knew, working security. I landed a job at a high-end Los Angeles Hotel, the Omni, which led to gigs with an upscale private security company working alongside off-duty LAPD officers at VIP red carpet events: movie premieres, Magic Johnson events, the Academy Awards®. It was not a bad situation to fall into, meeting and hanging with hundreds of celebrities.
Meanwhile, my wife, who has a degree in music and has been singing forever—on her own and with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir—started a vocal coaching business that was becoming very successful.
And then, in 2006, my wife and I took a trip to Europe: Paris, Amsterdam, Italy. When we came back something had shifted inside me. After being exposed to so much culture, style, and elegance, I wanted to make my own life larger in some way.
So I started doing extra work, thinking maybe acting was the way to go… Nope! Just met a bunch more stars and got cut out of every big scene I was in.
Throughout our time in Pasadena, I would periodically stop in at the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school there, but still I had no time, and no money.
Chef Kevin in America’s Test Kitchen
In 2008, magic happened: My Uncle Paul and Aunt Rebecca offered to get behind me financially to make my dream of becoming a Chef come true.
My wife and I returned to the Bay Area and I enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu at the California Culinary Academy where I studied with top culinary experts and chefs from around the world. I learned butchery, Asian cooking, wine pairing… every instructor bringing me closer to The Food. The Indian chef, teaching me to make Ghee—her peering over my shoulder, saying “No it’s not there yet.” “Really?” “No, let it go.” “But it looks burnt?” “So? Just keep going!” And at the end of that I’m adding cinnamon sticks, star anise, nuts, and this beautiful rice pilaf appears. I’ll never forget that experience. Or, working with Chef McDang from Thailand—he’s a celebrity chef in that country—learning how to really make Curry and Pad Thai.
Working with chefs of that caliber that taught me the finesse that goes into cooking. And the most important lesson:Tasting a dish from the very beginning of the recipe and not being afraid to taste it again and again—it’s going to be awful—tasting it ten minutes from there, and ten minutes from there, and then at the end, and letting it rest 10 minutes and tasting again; and at each stage, you’re salting it, adjusting the seasonings. These are the small things that make good food, good.
In the three short years since graduation I have had the honor of interning and working at some of the finest restaurants and catering companies and venerable food science establishments in the Bay Area and across the country, absorbing every little thing I could from all of the extraordinary renowned chefs and humble cooks there; all of which has gone into my own executive chef work, private catering, and cooking classes.
I am so grateful to my family, without whose financial and emotional support, I would never have gotten this far. Now, I have so much I want to give back—through my cooking, and through teaching others how to cook.
My mission is to put a smile on the faces and warm the souls of the people eating my food.
This blog is about sharing my stories, my recipes, and my services with you. Thank you for reading.