GABRIEL GLASIER -THE INTERVIEW
With over 3000 hours of stages while in school, to a chefs position within a short time of being in the industry, to a corporate chef position that could have made him a very wealthy man before disaster struck; owner of several restaurant and catering ventures and only 38 years old. You might say Gabriel Glasier’s career is in hyper-drive, but Gabriel was built for speed! Here is his story…
What was your food heritage growing up?
Actually, I had this conversation with my fiancé Kristel the other day, I actually had no specific food heritage growing up though I ate really well. I grew up in Southern California and it was anything and everything. I had tacos, and then we’d have Vietnamese, and then Italian. Although I have French/German heritage I was never focused on one cuisine. My culinary training is French but I apply that to broadening my culinary horizons and applications to all cuisines- why limit it to a few or one?
What drew you to the industry and why become a Chef?
It was actually an accident. My family moved up here to the Sacramento area from Southern California when I was young. By the time I was 17 I was working retail at Dimple records, I had played in a punk band and just finished a stint playing bass as a jazz musician. My car broke down and I needed a steady job and got hired on at Home Chef here in Sacramento as a retail clerk. I show up one day to work and there was paper on the windows- it closed over night. The manager came out and handed me my final check and I walked around the corner to the Zinfandel Grille and applied for a job, with limited experience mind you, and Chef Doug Eby actually hired me. I worked there for two and a half years because I didn’t know any better making minimum wage and worked the pantry, moved into the pizza station, got broiler time, and enjoyed every minute of it! It was around 1998 that a friends mom asked me why I didn’t enroll in culinary school, and shoot I didn’t even know that was an option, I mean I had never planned on making a career of this but I loved doing it so much that at that point I seriously considered becoming a chef. I really looked up to Rick Mahan and a that moment in time I thought if I can become as good as this chef I will have made it, and that became a goal.
At that point I enrolled at the CCA in San Francisco. I lived in the Presidio for a while then moved to Berkeley. It was in Berkeley, while still going to school, that I started to get some heavy restaurant experience. I worked at Via Centro, a little 30 seat Tuscan restauraunt that had an ever changing menu, then also at a place called Downtown. This place was a beast. I saw a veteran of 16 years burst into tears, throw down his pans and walk out. In the theatre district, on a show night just packed and the saute’ station had 16 burners. I started on the broiler but then I was put onto saute’ and I mean just trying to manage that as a young cook was an incredible challenge but man did I learn speed! The saute’ station is still where I get the most excited even to this day.
I was at Downtown for about 6 months, and this is where I have to clarify things. I bounced around a lot, I mean A LOT. I staged, worked multiple jobs and went to school at the same time. You see I have been blessed with a tremendous amount of natural energy, I mean I can go and go- there was one week where I slept less than 20hrs for the whole week. So what I was doing is taking advantage of that drive by speeding up the time it takes to get to a certain skill level by doing more in any given day, simply because I did not tire out easily. Look, to become a decent executive chef you need to put in the time, so I wanted to speed the process up by simply immersing myself into the process at the right places. I really can’t name all the restaurants that I put individual and/or multiple days at with no pay but it amounted to about 3000 hours time and I learned something at each and every place. This was free time but really enhanced my ability to earn a better wage in a reduced amount of time. I was able to properly take on a sous chef’s responsibility after about 6 years in the industry total.
One of the places I staged multiple shifts was Chez Panisse. I was not an employee, I would just go in after a job, or school, or on a free day and work wherever they put me. I wasn’t looking for pay, I was looking for experience at a high level. That’s the first place I ever saw a cardoon, had no idea what it was but after cleaning and prepping cases upon cases of them you learn, now I know cardoons inside and out! The experience and education at that level was invaluable to me in the culinary process.
I would check the board at the CCA on what restaurants or chefs needed help and I’d be the first to go. So needless to say I was a terrible student as far as school went. I wouldn’t take tests or go to certain classes because I had already read the book and was working, I mean that’s the whole point right? I think I graduated because they sent me a diploma, but I wasn’t at the ceremony because I was working at Chez Panisse that day. So I think I may be a culinary school graduate, I mean I do have the paper that says so!
This experience over the working years helps me go into something new with more confidence. Not that I don’t get into a pickle when attempting something outside of the comfort zone but the skills acquired allow me to dig out of the hole instead of getting buried in it. It really comes down to time, experience, and application. But let me say the more one knows the more discovery there is to be made. Now looking at SE Asia I’m learning techniques that turn my classical training on its ear. I know look at new ways to approach familiar things and how to apply what I know and am learning to unfamiliar things. This is where I’m at now in my journey. This is also what I try and impart to my team.
My first real non bouncing around job out of school was in 2000 at the Carneros Winery when the Sabastiani family owned it, I was there until 2002. The cool part was we could not make money because of the tax implications so we had carte blanche. I had to learn about production for high end weddings for 500 that ran $200,000+. There were three of us with occasional help coming in. We didn’t have a normal kitchen structure but I guess I was number two man. I was young but let me tell you when it was busy it was BRUTAL! Sometimes 20 hour days. I guess that has made me a bit insensitive to whining. I worked sick and in pain regularly. Now when someone says, “My back hurts”, I think yeah so does mine and probably more than yours but I just don’t notice it. So when I’m sick and a job needs to get done I just don’t pay attention to being sick. I mean that’s what you need to do in this industry- it battle hardens you.
I then went to work for SRO Inc. for a couple of years and worked under Fred Haines at the Riverside Clubhouse. Adam Pechal and a number of other chefs that went on worked the line there as well. I was sous chef at Riverside and also cooked at 33rd Street Bistro so it was pretty much a 70 hour week for me, but hey I was used to these hours.
I then opened up my own restaurant in Cameron Park called the Red Bud Café. We got tremendous reviews from the Sacramento BEE and we were doing very well until 2008 when we were going to expand and we made a crucial mistake in how we distributed investors funds for advancing the business and then the market collapsed it completely shut us down. We learned a vital business lesson in that. In fact looking back this may have been the best business lesson that I had ever gotten. Failure hurts but if you learn from it, it makes you stronger.
Just before this the owner and CEO of a major development group called Watermark would frequent Red Bud and really liked what we were doing. He sat me down one day and told me how frustrated he’d been in finding new culinary vision for his existing properties and those to come. They were putting together 36 yacht marinas up and down the eastern seaboard, multiple golf courses, a dining train, restaurants- I mean a really big deal and he wanted me to be involved. Then he presented a figure to me that dropped my jaw, not only a large six figure salary, but 15% of the profits and part ownership of the business. I never thought that anything like this was even available to a chef! With the closing of my café I was about to embark on a role as a corporate chef of a major development company with multiple properties all over the eastern seaboard.
Before I threw myself completely into this Kerry Kassis called me into the now defunct Slocum House and because of what we were doing at Red Bud he wanted me to help him turn this once great restaurant around, so I took on the task along with consulting on the major Watermark project. The Watermark thing now blossomed and I went to it full time, menus were written, business plans in place, construction moving forward and then the Gulf oil spill happened. That was a hit and then the chief development officer left and now no one was overseeing the construction, then embezzlement started to take place in that arena and it really was the writing on the wall that this was not going to last. My lucrative corporate gig was over. A shame since it had so much potential. Now I was off for like a month going stir crazy, I even laid a 1000# of sod in a friends yard in one day so I wouldn’t lose my mind! I was used to being so busy so this down time was. I’m just so high energy that I don’t do well with down time.
Then I went to work at Maranello’s in Fair Oaks until they sold to Dad’s Kitchen. At that point I decided to partner with my fiancé (also our pastry chef) and just start a catering company in 2014. We called it Chef & Baker and it is still a very successful venture. We operated out of the Enotria space on Del Paso Blvd and finally we made the owner of the property an offer to take the place over. So far a success, at this point we will do 70 weddings this year, plus keeping the Enotria events alive, and our restaurant Cask & Barrel. We kept Enotria as a entity in that this place, for events, is an establishment that has been around for a long time, and we would hate to see it disappear so Enotria events will continue.
Look, we do well because I limit the labor that I need. Cask & Barrel will take on different menus that reflect our take on different cuisines with fresh menu changes. Of course our name reflects the excellent wine & whiskey list that has some pretty cool offerings. I do not have cooks- I have two chefs. We have two servers on the floor. We seat no more than 40 for the restaurant. The dish washer also preps. We have a total of about 15 employee’s for all the venues combined. Everyone gets paid well, we’re able to purchase really quality ingredients, we get our butts kicked but we get compensated and we make money- a win win. I plan to open more restaurants, with various concepts, but none will have more than 40 seats- 40 in my mind is the magic number to keep a restaurant profitable from a chef/owner standpoint. I have worked so hard to bring it to this point and I think I want to have it where I can take more time off, travel, explore and bring these experiences back home to share with others through our venues.
How would you define your style?
Eccentric! Although I was trained in French technique I love so many different kinds of cuisine that I look for ways to incorporate the spirit of those into my cooking.
What do you like most/least about being the boss?
MOST: I like to develop young talent and not having to answer to anyone about my cuisine except the customer.
LEAST: Constantly being pulled away to answer questions that can be answered by a little common sense. Combat distractions!
What chefs influenced you the most?
- Thomas Keller
- Andy Ricker at Pok Pok
- Any chef/cook at the humble little hole in the wall and stalls throughout my travels.
If you could keep only 3 culinary books, what would they be?
- Modernist Cuisine
- Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet
- NOMA Cookbook
Favorite kitchen gadget:
Edge Pro knife sharpener
If you were not a chef what would you do?
CIA Operative – the travel and intrigue interests me.
Culinary trends that bug you/ trends you like:
BUG: I don’t like this kind of elitist type thing where certain items or techniques have been banned because they are deemed ‘not cool’. I mean whatever happened to demi-glace? Demi-glace is fantastic , and what can’t we use a squirt bottle, or tongs anymore?Why eliminate tools, just because they’re perceived as not cool?
LIKE: The move away from excessive modernist techniques and back to basic cooking. Nothing against the modern techniques, but it should be a tool in ones bag, and not the main focus. It got to the point where people were putting chems in everything and losing the solid basic cooking techniques. Things would be pretty but lack flavor as flavor development to second stage to being able to make a sphere or whatever. I think we’re heading back to straight up cooking and using the modern elements in moderation.
An ingredient that you’re attached to:
Bagoong and any fermented Asian fish product- I am simply crazy for the stuff.
Worst kitchen blunder:
Not too long ago I had a catering event at a winery with 1500 plated appetizers and we got all the way up there and realized I had forgotten one of the apps. I had 35 minutes to figure it out with no time to go back. I ran to a grocery store, bought enough stuff for 400 pieces, sped back and threw together an app and dodged the bullet. No one knew the difference, but I was just sick to my stomach.
Most memorable dining experience:
In 2014 Kristel and I were in BangkokThailand during the political riots during the elections. One sweltering night we were walking the streets looking for a cold beer and they were not selling alcohol during the elections. I was dying and we cut down this alley and saw a table with a beer on it so we stopped and it was a pop up restaurant that not only served us beer but the best Thai meal of my entire life, course after course from this little old lady cooking her heart out. Unforgettable!
Favorite ‘elbows on the table hole in the wall’:
Las Cuatro Milpas – a 73 year old tortilla factory in San Diego. Handmade tortillas and like 5 items every day. You better be in line by 10am because they are out of food by noon and that’s it. The line can be 2 hours long. The tortillas will change your life. Oh, in Sacramento I would say Chando’s Tacos.
A food item you hate to admit to liking:|
Del Taco’s Fish Tacos– it’s probably not fish and barely a taco but after 17 hours of work it hits the spot!
Three things in fridge right now:
Beer, wine, and inedible over ripe cheese.
Secret junk food indulgence:
It’s that Del Taco Fish Taco
Three people in history you’d like to cook for:
It would be family members I never got to cook for. I never got to cook for either of my grand mothers and I would like to have done that- they were brilliant cooks.
Gabriel Glasier on Preferred Meats :”The heart of the matter is that I run my business in a way so I can purchase the best quality products and that’s why for my meats I call Preferred. There is a difference that is apparent in the final product. Preferred is also represented by chefs that have been on the front lines and understand my needs and not just salespeople with catalogs. I feel it is a company geared toward chefs and represented by chefs, and to me that’s hard to find and greatly appreciated. ”
interview by John Paul Khoury,CCC
Corporate Chef Preferred Meats, Inc