No one starts out on top, especially in the food business. In this weekly column, chefs and restaurateurs across the country share the stories of their humble beginnings.
These days, it seems that Jennifer Puccio, executive chef and partner of white-hot San Francisco restaurants Marlowe, Park Tavern and The Cavalier, barely has time to breathe. All three restaurants opened within three years, and The Cavalier is sush a hit - drawing mobs for her clever take on pub grub and a members-only back room - that it landed on our list of the “25 Most Important Restaurants of 2013.” Hard to believe, then, that the workhorse chef claims that she "stumbled" into the industry while going to school for business management in Maine.
“I had a summer job while there making popovers at a resort in Arcadia,” Puccio says. It was the first time she had ever cooked, and as Puccio recalls, “There is nothing glamorous about making popovers at all - I was cracking thousands of eggs a day, making batters, going in and out of deck ovens and constantly burning my arms and hands.” But the chef reveals it was much more fun and rewarding than anything she had done before. “I absolutely loved getting my hands dirty and I loved being able to see the immediate accomplishment of what I was doing…literally thousands of popovers over the course of an afternoon.”
Puccio soon found that she enjoyed that experience much more than being in business school, causing her to transfer over to culinary school, move to San Francisco and eventually work in some of the Bay Area’s top restaurants, including Oleana and Cortez. Today, Puccio says that she absolutely recommends that anyone who wants to get into the business take a similar path, as only the truly committed survive such labor. “It’s not for everyone,” she warns, “So if you don’t want to work long hours and get your hands dirty and get yelled at often, then it's best to find that out before you spend thousands and thousands of dollars on culinary school.”