What's NOT on My Resume: Thomas McNaughton

By Kathleen Squires  |  October 24, 2013
Credit: Hernan F. Rodriguez

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.

Though he’s just 30 years old, we were surprised when Thomas McNaughton, the thrice-nominated James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef of the Year (and 2012 Zagat 30 Under 30), told us that he hasn’t actually put together a resume in over a decade. “I moved out to San Francisco 11 years ago, and that was the last time that I ever put together a resume,” the chef, who helms Flour + Water and Central Kitchen, confides. “So many people now think they need to have all of these big names to put on a resume to get work. After last sending one out 11 years ago, all of my next jobs and all of the next steps in my career came from the relationships that I formed coming up.” It didn’t hurt that those relationships were at the highly-rated restaurants La Folie, Gary Danko and Quince. “Those relationships are what’s more important than a resume. I look at a resume that says ‘three months at Noma,’ and I say, ‘Awesome you picked herbs for three months at Noma. Who are you?’”

Still, the chef says that if the day comes when he would have to put his resume together, there is one job that might not make it on there, though he feels it was essential for the basis of his career. “One of my first jobs was in Medford, New Jersey, when I was 15 years old,” he says. “It was at a place that was half bar, half liquor store, and I worked the line there as a short order cook. I think it was fundamental in my career because before even thinking about food in terms of a dish, plating, or even as cuisine, you think about the fundamentals and the timing that goes into a kitchen. That is really important. You have to build a foundation of the timing in a kitchen and the rhythmics that go behind being a line cook. I think a lot of people skip this step.” To McNaughton, it’s still all about the timing in the restaurant business. “Anybody can be an amazing cook and make a plate of food for a few people. But when you are feeding multiple people at a restaurant, so much of it is about timing. There is a strategy that goes into it and that’s how it all comes together.”