The chef who opened one restaurant earlier this year and has another on the way at The Wharf gives us a behind-the-scenes look at his accomplishments.
What is the one piece of advice you wish you had heard when you were starting your career?
Save for a rainy day. No matter how well you do, it will rain someday. You’re going to need an umbrella.
What has been your greatest achievement so far? Your greatest regret?
I have been blessed with many achievements. Certainly achieving Tom Sietsema’s four out of four stars three years after opening Restaurant Eve is one of the highlights. The other is to have found success both in business and in my family life; sometimes one or the other suffers. Having both ranks in the top.
When did you feel you had “made it”?
When I found myself cooking for two sitting president of the United States. One for President Bush and first lady Laura at a private dinner in a friend’s home, and the other when President Obama and first lady Michelle celebrated their anniversary at Restaurant Eve.
I thought to myself: “This is it.”
How do you define success?
Success is happiness. That means different things to different people. For me winning is a good benchmark. The feeling of winning is the most exhilarating.
What job or position have you previously had that helped you get to where you are today?
I’ve been in the restaurant business my whole adult life. The best training I got was at Vidalia. Jeff Buben taught me how to run a restaurant as a proper business. Without that training I never would have gotten to where I am today.
What do you do after a disappointment?
We are very competitive people. Any loss is hard to take. When we fail it takes time to recover. But you have to dust yourself off and get back on the horse as quickly as possible. There have been a few and, I admit, I questioned my goals after them but then I just get back at it harder than ever.
Give us an idea of your work/life balance philosophy.
The restaurant business is both fun and hard. We work long hours. There really isn’t a regular balance. We schedule little breaks here and there where we can. Family is most important. Don’t ever forget that. Sunday has been family day for us. We really try to keep that day for us and our children.
What is the one thing you do for yourself every day, or at least once a week?
My personal thing is Taekwondo. I work out with my coach for an hour six days a week. It really helps me to stay balanced and focused. I’m stronger for it both physically and mentally.
What’s one thing you still want to do with your life?
I’d like to travel more. I’ve been fortunate to have visited many countries as my father was a tour operator. I really want to get to see more of Asia; Korea, the Philippines and China are high on my list.
Any advice for those who are going into your field?
Be prepared for the long hours on your feet. Stay in shape. Keep fit. Our business is physically demanding as well as mentally.