My interview at one of the best restaurants in NYC
Date Documented: 9/7/19
What is Per Se?
Columbus Circle. A roundabout that homes the Time Warner Center, I have been accustomed to making our annual travel here to stand on the second story of this boogie mall to stare out into the round-about with statues that stand tall and overlook central park. I now find myself living closer to here, actually seeking employment in this mall. As you enter you are greeted by two giant statues of naked figures and a group of tourists taking pictures with these naked beings. With all of these high-end stores in the mall on the third floor, you can find the “Food Court”. With restaurants such as Bouchon Bakery, Momofuku Ssam Bar, Bluebird London, Bang Bar. But if you go up one more floor, you are going up one more comma to your bill, one more dollar sign, one more life-changing experience. Masa, A high-end Japanese restaurant where master chef Masa explores a modern take on Omakase is guarded by a thin hanging curtain. I often go up there just to read the menu posted on the wall and see if I can get a slight peek inside the restaurant. Right next to it is the Porter House Bar and Grill. Another High-End steak house from Chef Michael Lomonaco, that has a piano bar and overlooks the central park. But the main reason why I come up to the 4th floor is the double blue doors. The double blue doors that aren’t even actually doors. Just a façade to create an experience before you even enter the restaurant! 2 weeks before my trail at Per Se I biked to the Time Warner Building and came to the 4th floor where I would stand slyly by the entrance of Per Se and look-into the restaurant. My heart would pound, and a would start to feel warm on my face with little beads of sweat starting to appear on my nose. I would then leave as soon as the feeling became overwhelming. I passed giant silver doors which were for receiving and after reading my email that was the employee entrance as well. I walk to the door and look it up and down, while Jenna films this moment of me entering. I make sure my phone is off, and take a deep breath. This was my 3rd trail in the city and I was becoming accustomed as to what to expect. Per se, like Eleven Madison Park was another 3 Michelin Star restaurant except the owner was Chef Thomas Keller. Chef Thomas Keller is on the Board of directors of the Culinary Institute of America, as well as a co-founder in the Ment’or Bocuse Foundation, and on the chair for the culinary Olympics, The Bocuse d’or. Almost everything I aspire to be I find in this man. I’ve applied for ment’or Bocuse for 3 years, and I moved to Minnesota to work for Gavin Kaysen with the hopes to get a little taste of what it would be like to compete.
My History with Chef Thomas Keller
My wife Jennalyn once met Chef TK. She shot a video of him giving me a little shout out. “Patience, Persistence, and Be Prepared”. Is what he said. I know this is something he probably said often to young cooks, but when I watch this video I feel like it was directed just for me. That he is speaking directly to me, and therefore I play this video before I go into any interview.
I walk into the double stainless doors and find myself in a maze of a hallway with speed racks lined against the wall. As I continue walking down the hallway I find myself at the entry door to the kitchen. There is a chef there, and a delivery guy. There seemed like there was an issue with some of the produce and he wanted to return it. I make my way into the kitchen and see a familiar face. Mickey Long, A friend of Jenna’s from the CIA. He stood tall and wore a chef coat embroidered with the logo Per Se and a blue apron. He welcomed with a friendly handshake and showed me briefly around the kitchen. I was brought to an office where I filled out some forms, applications and a confidentiality agreement. They won’t allow me to post any pictures of anything in the restaurant, pictures are prohibited, and I will not be able to share any techniques of the things I saw. After I finished filling out the paperwork I got up from the desk and went and turned it into Chef Mickey, where he then walked me to another sous chef, “Keeran” I believe was his name. Chef Keeran gave me a quick tour and introduced me to Chef Fred, Chef Dan, and Chef Corey Chow. After my introduction chef brought me around the kitchen where he asked everyone who needs hands. The cooks would look at me and decline the help. I felt like I was being judged slightly but I didn’t take it personally. Being on the other end I know sometimes having a trail can slow you down. The chef got a little station for me set up, where he delegated me to cut some red and green chili rings. After I got 160 red rings and 80 green rings I was to cut the core out using scissors. This took me longer than expected. As I started this task, I found myself with a hard time focusing. I would cut the rings, and try to count and while focusing on counting I would cut the pieces too big. I was also distracted by trying to watch all the other cooks, cook. They moved with much haste, and the noise brought a different level of intensity that was more upfront than what I experienced at EMP. I felt the pressure from the other cooks and the way they pushed to have everything done on time. I tried my best to focus on the task at hand while slicing the peppers I had an urge to look up slightly. I slowly look up and I notice Chef Corey Chow, the CDC standing to my right, watching me. I could see him in my peripheral and I did not continue to look up. Instead, I quickly put my head down and sliced away. I remember reading about stories of other cooks getting caught off guard dazing off in amazement and getting yelled at. 80 green peppers and 40 Red peppers were complete. At 3:45 we stopped for family meal. It was a half-hour break where we ate pasta, caesar salad, and some corned beef with cabbage. After family meal, the cooks and chefs gathered at the pass where we went over the menu for the next day. They went over the dishes so fast, but the cooks wrote down what they needed to and it seemed like some of the cooks got to decide what they were going to put on the dish. There was a whiteboard, called the inspiration board. Cooks get a chance to decide what dish they wanted to make and possibly put on the menu. If the chefs like the dish they would take the concept and turn it into a 3 Michelin star dish. This concept was rather exciting for me. It felt like an opportunity to put a dish on the menu of one of the greatest restaurants in the United States.
The family meal was finished by 4:15, everyone cleaned up and we were gathered around the pass. Chef went over the menu for tomorrow asking the cooks for recommendations for sauces, what were there pars, and how much to expect for service. Service then began. I was called to the pass where I would stand and overlook the line. “2 Tasting menu” Chef Corey would call.
“2 tasting menu” The kitchen would reply. Then he would proceed to call off by station what was coming off each station. “1 Foie, 1 Melon” Chef Corey Said
“1 Foie, 1 Melon”. Garde Manger would reply.
Chef would continue to call for the rest of the stations and they would continue to reply. In the middle of service, chef could have had 27+ tickets on the rail, where they would be working there tasting menus, from Salmon Cornets, to seared scallops. I really liked how they picked up their proteins. The cooks were pros, I could tell by how consistent there temps were. They had a Japanese charcoal grill in the back parallel to a small countertop combi. For a moment of the night, I was called over from the meat station to help him finish his MEP and refill the charcoal grill. I got in the hang of grabbing their dirty dishes and putting in some work instead of just standing there. Observational stages are kind of difficult because I don’t think chef can see what your potential is. I’m not sure if that really matters since you’ll probably start off peeling vegetables. At the end of my trail, unlike my other trails, I was not asked to make anything. Chef snuck up behind me and tapped on my shoulder. I followed him through the maze and met in his office. Really quick and to the point, he just explained that he didn’t want to offer me a job yet because there were 3 more trails throughout the week. I said that was fair. He explained that everyone starts off as a commis. I talked about Bocuse and my appreciation for ment’or. He explained how he was friends with Mathew Peters who took home a gold medal and Bocuse d’or, which just made chef Chow all the more of an intimidating guy. He asked me if I had any questions.
“No,” I said, “ I wish I did.”
I had so many questions I wanted to ask that I was thinking about throughout the day. “Why is there a tv forecasting the French Laundry’s Service?, Why do post the French Laundry’s Menu on the pass? How long are most people a commis before they get moved to the line, what’s the shift look like? How long to most employees stay? What other benefits does the company offer?”
Instead, I said, “ No chef, I’m sorry, I wish I did”.
Needless to say, I walked out of that office as a little man. I was shaking and disappointed in myself with the thought that I failed my interview. Hopefully, I prepped well enough they thought I would still stand a chance in their brigade.
3 days later I get an email. “Congratulations, Chef Corey would like to offer you a position as a commis at Per Se” A message I received from Elaine Smyth. She was whom I was in contact with to set up the trail. At this point, I still didn’t know what to do. I know I wanted to work at Per Se, but I was really in love with EMP. Baaaaaa. Let’s see…