Except for when I ran away to join the circus, I have spent my entire working life in the restaurant business (James attributes this to sheer lack of ambition). In that time I have had every job description within a restaurant, starting as dishwasher and working all the way down to owner, in establishments ranging from a pizzeria to 4-star, white tablecloth restaurants. I have managed other people's restaurants and I have had two of my own. Once, within the space of a year, I went from owning the hottest club in Paris to working in a taco stand for $40 a day. Trust me, things can always be worse, and so easily too.
I have been a record producer, a pilot, a photographer, an artist, and an immigrant. My experience has spanned 3 countries on 2 continents in at least 3 languages. Despite the various detours along the way, it has been restaurants and the restaurant business that have sustained me and brought me my greatest joy and success. Restaurants have fed me, taught me, borne me up through times of trouble, and kept me humble in times of excess. I suppose you could say I have the restaurant business in my blood (or maybe it's just all that accumulated fat and grease), and for better or worse it has brought me to where I am today, in a cooking school. But as a Chinese person once told me in a fortune cookie (I don't remember who he was but I remember the menu)," The journey is the reward " that pretty much sums my life but don't forget to look out the window.
It is now roughly 30 years since my first restaurant job (wouldn't it be sad if I remembered the exact day I started work), half of which has been spent here in the United States. I arrived in the U.S. with $800 in my pocket and without the ability to speak English (I had just started to get the hang of French). What I did have was a burning desire to make it in America, the land of opportunity, milk and honey, and I have heard, good martinis. I knew that I could always work in restaurants, and with the exception of a few sojourns into photography, aviation, journalism, and even the law (filing papers for non-English-speaking Mexicans every morning in L.A at the immigration office), I have made my living in the restaurant business. I would find that that the restaurant industry was a common thread among aliens from all over the world. In fact, if all the illegal immigrants in the U.S. were suddenly deported, the majority of the restaurants would have to close. I have met and worked side by side with Asians, Latinos, Europeans, Africans, and even some Canadians (although no one noticed them), and have found more in common with them than differences, as we all grappled with English as our common-but-not-yet-mastered second language.
Today I am doing it all over again (hopefully avoiding the broke and unemployed part this time) but who knows (don't trust astrologers; they can predict the future but they don't make it come)? I have just opened a cooking school called Kitchen on Fire (in metaphor only I hope) with my partner Michael Cappon aka Chef Mike C., hoping to tap into all my experience in the restaurant business. Of course, my new son decided to enter the world the same week we opened the school (or maybe it was the other way around), doing away with all those wasted hours of sleeping at night
It's been three years now and I am preparing my next books, one with my literary partner, James, as well as half a dozen other projects, while generally juggling finances in such a way in order to stay afloat. I have an iron faith in my future and with my business partner and we are working like slaves to be able to keep doing what we do in our kitchen and go to the next step... a TV show. Why not, I can work on my accent and my hair…or maybe just my hair.
One of my bank accounts is looking at the the other one to see if he could borrow from, but as any good American would do, we've refinanced our mortgage and so everything is all good now. After all, how could I be broke when I still have checks left?
You'd think after all these years I would have learned a thing or two, and you'd be right. I've learned that I really can't learn much. Learning is for others. Actually, I am willing to make all the mistakes if somebody is willing to learn from them
I was born in Paris on April 12, 1961 and I've celebrated it every year since. Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut, was flying overhead somewhere in space as I was born. My father says that the doctors and nurses were all watching the first man is space on TV so I had to make my own exit. I even had to spank myself to get my lungs going, a practice I still engage in when I'm feeling ignored. The 1960s in Paris were a time of great turmoil and also great creativity. It was a time of artistic experimentation in film, music, art, and fashion. It was also a time when French cuisine was at its height, and yet was still very much stuck in old traditions. It was the standard cuisine of hotels and fine restaurants around the globe. Jackie Kennedy hired a French chef for the White House, and that same year Julia Child published her magnum opus, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which introduced French cuisine to American cooks.
Leaving Los Angeles...
I leave LA in the evening. I just got tired of it somehow. Maybe I know too many people in this city, or maybe I donít know enough. Or maybe this last year in the restaurant brought back too many memories of my own failed establishment in Paris, memories prompted by the fact that most of the people I know here acquired at least one hangover there.
You know the old saying in the restaurant business. A full restaurant will attract customers as one empty one doesn't. Well it is the same for the scum that wants to racket your place: They have no business in an empty place. And yes there is politic inside the "mafia" system or rather hierarchy. You know` the small fish and then later the bigger fish so on so forth.
Drinking in English
I came to America for the first time when I was 20 years old, and even though I could barely speak English, knew next to nothing about American culture, and had virtually no money, I operated in blissful ignorance making the whole thing a wonderful adventure rather than the nightmare it should have been. I had already made some attempts to learn English.