Q & A with Eric Greenspan, Part 2: Culinary School or Not Culinary School, Etc.
Photo by Felicia Friesema.
In Part 1 of our interview with Eric Greenspan, we discovered that The Foundry on Melrose is somehow a tight ship and a wild ride at the same time. The chef waxed poetic (and, well, dropped a lot of f-bombs) as he discussed the challenges of owning a restaurant, the real story behind his winning grilled cheese recipe, and why placenta chairs may be the next big thing. (You had to be there.) In Part 2, he gives us his opinion of the culinary school controversy, as well as shows us why he's a real 'OG' chef.
We also learned that if you're attending the Grilled Cheese Invitational this Saturday, you will likely catch a glimpse of Greenspan not only competing, but running in a nacho cheese dunk tank for charity as well.
Turn the page to read the rest of the interview, and check back tomorrow for Greenspan's recipe for "The Champ."
Squid Ink: With the advent of the 'cheflebrity,' do you think the industry is at risk of getting invaded by a bunch of Paris Hilton-type chefs?
Eric Greenspan: That's like saying, 'Is Green Day punk?' Did Green Day bring a lot of people into the punk rock world and did people enjoy whatever it is that they do? Sure. I'm definitely not a territorial chef who's like, 'This is our world! Leave us alone!' People like shit. I think it only helps. Getting people into food, that excitement, recognizing that there's an entertainment value to going out to dinner is awesome.
The bigger concern is, I think that a lot of people now try to go into this world -- it's like those busloads of people who get off at the Greyhound station in Hollywood. Chicks from fucking Nebraska that are like 'I'm gonna be the next Marilyn fucking Monroe.' Well, there was only one Marilyn Monroe out of the thousands and thousands and thousands.
I look back -- I worked in some amazing kitchens. In some of the best kitchens in the world, and there were 15 cooks in every one of those kitchens. I wasn't the best one out of all of them, in any of them. Maybe one or two of those guys that I worked with, maybe three, are 'chefs.' So even in that hyper world of people who are extremely dedicated to their craft, only a few of those people make it.
I feel bad for the people that go to culinary school and think they're going to be fucking Emeril Lagasse.
SI: What's your opinion about the class action lawsuit against Le Cordon Bleu? You went to culinary school -- but you also started out as a dishwasher and worked your way up. What do you think about those students who feel they've been mislead into thinking culinary school was their straight ticket to the position of chef?
EG: Look, Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, any of those people, they didn't just come out of school and become who they are. They worked their asses off. I got my first executive chef job at 27. Fortuitous. I'm 35-years-old and I've owned my own restaurant for 4 years now. I'm kind of ahead of the age curve I'd say, but still, I don't think it can take away from the fact that I've worked my fucking ass off. I've been working since I was 17-years-old, everyday, fucking 14 hours a day, put myself through hell and high water, no money, working my ass off to try to become who I want to be. Anybody who thinks you can just go to school and become that? Well, why the fuck wouldn't I have done it that way?
I used to teach at a culinary school, Kitchen Academy Hollywood, and I just did a TV show with a girl, she was my pastry chef on the show that was filmed, and she said that I spoke at her graduation. And I didn't remember doing this, but she said I basically got up there and was like, 'So. You think you all are chefs, huh? None of you are chefs. I know you think you're chefs, I know you went to culinary school and you figured I'm gonna go to culinary school and be a chef. You're not chefs. You're not even close to chefs.'
I get it. Culinary schools are fucking robbing people blind. That you pay law school prices for a fucking minimum wage job is retarded. Don't go to culinary school. Find a chef who's willing to hire you for minimum wage, and get your ass kicked. In two years you're going to learn more than you'd learn in school, and you can get paid for it.
SI: So you think it is possible to not even go to culinary school and still be a success?
EG: I've looked through my 'atelier,' shall we say, of staff who have come up through me, I don't think any one of them went to culinary school.
SI: And you don't care?
EG: No! Can they cook? I was a short order cook for three years before I went to culinary school. I went to culinary school because I didn't meet a guy like me who was like 'Just start cooking, dude.' And because I had a place to stay in France, and it was a great opportunity.
SI: You once said you didn't really go to class, though.
EG: I went to school enough. I realized right away, though, because I was a short order cook for three fucking years, I walked into school and I was like, 'This is bullshit.' Fucking Beef Bourguignon for four? What the fuck do I need to learn that for?
SI: What made you decide to go?
EG: Finally I didn't know how to explain to my parents that they just paid for a fucking college degree at Berkeley -- I'd just graduated from a business program at Berkeley -- and now I was off to be a short order cook. I realized you've got to cook fancy food, and maybe they might respect you. I didn't think that I was capable of cooking fancy food. I flipped eggs. Little did I realize that flipping eggs is the hardest fucking thing out there. So I was like, I've got to go to culinary school. The dollar was stronger than the franc, I had a free place to stay in Paris, so I was like, 'Fuck it. Let's go to culinary school in Paris.' I got real lucky. But then I got there and realized this is bullshit. I can smoke this group. I don't care how to make Beef Bourguignon for four. I want to make it for 400.
It's the work part. That's the part that these kids hate. They get out of school and they're like, 'I have to work? I'm not just cooking for four?' Yeah, you have to work! You burn yourself every fucking day. Your back hurts and it sucks, but for some reason you choose to do it, because we all find our niche in this world. Some of us are cursed to find one niche and some of us are blessed to find another.
I'll tell you straight up, the way I really do see it after teaching at culinary schools and everything, a lot of these kids are looking for an easy way out. They're looking for somebody to show them what the fuck to do, and when they find out that what they chose wasn't the easy way out, they're like 'Fuck.' So they try to take the easy way out another way, which is suing somebody for it.
It's like, 'You know what, dude? Shut the fuck up.' Everything in this world you have to earn.' There are kids coming out of culinary school that I have in my kitchen right now that are about fire and who get it. They understand they went to school, and this is going to be my craft, this is going to be my career, this is what I'm going to be, this is the next step.
SI: So you're saying people don't go to business school and expect to come out a CEO.
EG: Yeah, I didn't go to business school and come out like, 'Where my company at?' Culinary schools are the hip school of choice right now. And being a chef is the hip profession of choice right now. And, it is such a dramatic shift. Being a lawyer is hard fucking work, but people don't burn themselves. And at the end of the day, they get paid pretty well to do it. So I think it's how hot it became so fast, and how dramatically different it is from what people expect, is why there's so much buzz about this.
SI: And maybe because there are so many chefs on TV these days?
EG: Do I want to be a TV star? No! Not really. I'd rather be hanging out here in a fur coat, smoking weed. That's my vision: fur chef coat, hanging out, yelling at people for getting stains on it.
To people who are like, 'He's showboating,' or 'He wants to be a TV star,' it's like, I want to be on TV because I want my restaurant to do well. When I come up to your table and ask how everything is, I literally mean, how is everything?
SI: There's definitely that old school Italian family restaurant vibe here. Even though The Foundry's not Italian, obviously.
EG: That's my whole thing. That's what we do here. We run this like a family fucking place. I put my heart into everything I do, on a daily fucking basis, and all I want is to give this place what it deserves. If a customer comes in, to thank them. Of all the fucking shithouses in this town, you chose my shithouse.
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