Thu, May 5, 2011
More often than not, people define career success by high salaries, fancy titles, annual bonuses and big promotions. As benchmarks of a career or job go, these are all important. But for me, my checklist for success is a bit different. Am I truly happy? Yes! Is my job driving my passion and interests? Yes! Is my career continually growing and is it challenging? Yes! Most importantly, do I get time to spend with my family and friends? Yes!
My checklist is perhaps what most consider the recipe to a happy life. But let’s face it – most of us spend over 70% of our week at work, so it’s pretty darn important to be happy and excited about what you do with that time. Finding your truth… what it is that really drives you is not easy for many to figure out. My advice? Consider a job a window, not a wall. Let me explain…
During college at Rutgers I worked at this little Italian Stromboli place called Stuff Yer Face. It was my first restaurant job, and I liked it. I started out washing dishes, and eventually became the fastest line cook in the place. What I got out of that first job—besides an addiction to the adrenaline rush of working at full tilt in a restaurant kitchen—was a sense of confidence about who I was. I learned that I liked working extremely hard. I learned that I could handle stress by kidding around and keeping it real. And I learned what may just have been the most useful piece of knowledge of my entire career to date: how to clean a blisteringly hot deep-fat fryer filled with stinking grease and detritus—and why you have to do it, disgusting as it may be.
To me, Stuff Yer Face was my window. It’s wasn’t a place to get to and then stop, it was an experience to learn from – a place to peer out at the real world and find myself. I soon learned you can’t think about your career as an end-zone that you’re running toward as fast as you can.
Here’s how I figured it out…
Not too long after I graduated, I woke up and realized I’d learned all I was going to learn at Stuff Yer Face – and that I was hooked on the idea of the restaurant business – even if I wasn’t exactly sure what that actually meant.
So I took off for London and ended up getting a job working at a pub, where the chef was this crazed Brit named Marco. At the time he was just a cook with a short temper who threw things at people; but I could tell there was some kind of weird but formidable genius there. So I stuck it out and learned what I could from his inventive, balls-of-steel cooking style.
We were both in our early twenties. In the next few years, he morphed into Marco Pierre White, one of the most famous chefs in the world. He’s a brilliant, media-savvy entrepreneur and he’s always known how to make himself larger than life. Though we didn’t get along well in those days, I have to say, spending time with him taught me how to think on a much larger scale and got my thinking about cooking with a real and bold point of view. But what I really took out of that experience is learning how to figure out who I am and finding the rewards in every situation, even the unpleasant ones… especially unpleasant ones!
After working in London and at various hotels and restaurants in San Francisco and Santa Barbara, I decided I needed to find something more, something true to who I am. I also knew that going to cooking schools and working in hotel kitchens could only teach me so much about cooking. The rest, I knew. I had to find and experience for myself. And of course, there’s no right answer here. It’s about finding what’s true for you; and you’ll know it when you see it.
For me, I had a strong feeling that Italy was where I could find some answers so there I went – to this tiny family-run trattoria in a town way up in the hills of Bologna, to a small restaurant called La Volta, which, for me, was THE ultimate cooking school and the window to my world. And it was in this tiny kitchen, surrounded by women, where I learned more or less everything I know about real Italian food and culture.
At some point what you’ve taken in turns into your take on things… and it transforms into something original. At La Volta, I helped out and observed and learned how to cook authentic Italian food, including the art of rolling pasta by hand and ultimately I made that experience my own. I may not have exactly known this at the time but in retrospect, I discovered the person I am today came to be during my three years at La Volta.
I came back to the U.S., and opened a restaurant in New York where I took the ideas behind what I’d learned at La Volta and reinvented them. At Babbo, I wanted people to feel like they were eating food that the kind of great Italian cooks at La Volta would make if they moved to New York and had really good local ingredients to work with. That’s all. A very simple idea. Well, it worked. And it appears to still be working.
My window is truth. What I started figuring out after I started poking around the world is that you’ve got to pay attention to the truth. It’s not an intellectual thing. It’s a gut thing. My truth is that I love real, honest, passionate, intense experiences. Experiences that don’t apologize for themselves or claim to be something they aren’t. That’s what I figured out; when people eat at my restaurants or watch my shows or read my books, I want to give them truth, passion, and intense hits of joy. That’s my brand. And I’m not talking about marketing or focus groups or giving a second thought to what anyone else thinks. The kind of brand I’m talking about is nothing more—and nothing less—than your own truth, expressed consistently by you.
Do you have what it takes to work for me? Watch this video to learn more.