Chuck Gay moved to Atlanta in 2011 in pursuit of his own American Dream. A native of Barbados in the West Indies, he came to the Art Institute of Atlanta specifically for culinary school. Now a line cook for Villains, he shares his humble beginnings, where he worked for free for five months to gain experience in the kitchen.
Chef McClure of Villains gave you an opportunity to work in the kitchen when you had no experience. How did that happen?
I hadn’t finished culinary school and had no restaurant experience except working with my mom for her catering business in Barbados. Chef taught one of my classes, so I asked him, ‘I really want to work for you but at this point I can’t work for any money because I don’t have my visa. I don’t have a problem working for free.’
So you worked for free from Villains opening day in April until you received your Visa in August. What did you do in the kitchen?
Chef told me some people feel that they are entitled to work from the top, but to get a good grasp you have to work from the bottom. So I did dishes, prep work, anything they needed me to do. It wasn’t a problem because I needed to learn.
Now you work on the line. What is that like?
It is really exciting. Sometimes it can be so much pressure, but then I get hit by that adrenaline rush. I think, I need to get this done. The food has to look good. I have to represent the restaurant and the people who gave me a chance.
Are you ever nervous?
When I first started, my hands were shaking. Chef told me, “If you weren’t nervous, something would be wrong because you haven’t done this before.” My mind has to be on-point all the time.
How did working in a restaurant differ from culinary school?
We learn techniques and how to follow recipes in school, however sometimes you don’t have the opportunity to follow everything step by step in the restaurant. So you have to learn to communicate with everyone.
Three essential things you learned:
What do you do when you mess up an order?
I have to keep my cool if I make a mistake. I have to use my reasoning to figure things out on my own. When I don’t understand something I never assume. I always ask the chefs questions. They take the time to teach us. They never yell at us.
Chef McClure seems very supportive.
Chef could have easily looked at me and said, “Get some experience and then we’ll talk.” Instead he said, “Come.” I feel like I’ve become a better person and a better chef because of what I’ve learned. I feel like the sky’s the limit.
Chef McClure, who sat in on the interview added that Gay’s work ethic was incredible from the start.
He worked three to four shifts a week alongside the other line cooks that were getting paid, but he never complained. He was never late and never missed a day.
-By Alexa Lampasona for the Food & More blog