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Restaurant Secrets

Restaurant secrets: Houston's top chefs open up on what drove them into the kitchen

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Vanessa O'Donnel Ooh La La horizontal
For Vanessa O’donnell of Ooh La La Desserts baking brings back childhood memories of licking the bowl and tasting desserts fresh out of the oven “If I can give someone else those same feelings and memories, it would make me happy,” she says. Photo by Kimberly Park
Chef Philippe Schmit
Philippe Schmit: “I always dreamed of traveling and one great advantage of become a chef is that I knew that from day one, thanks to my cooking teacher Mr. Coustou, it would allow me to come to the U.S. because I was obsessed by food.” Courtesy photo
Marene why I became a chef April 2014 Ronnie Killen To make people happy. People always love the chef .
Ronnie Killen: "To make people happy. People always love the chef!" Photo by Kimberly Park
Marene why I became a chef April 2014 Randy Rucker
Randy Rucker: “Reckon it's the only thing I am decent at and could make a living doing.” Photo by Kimberly Park
chef Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio April 2014
Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio: “Everyone is blessed with a gift in life, being a chef is mine.” Photo by © Debora Smail
Ben Rabbani chef head shot October 2013
Ben Rabbani: "I always wanted to be a cook. Cooks have all the fun.” Photo by Kimberly Park
Marene why I became a chef Jose Hernandez April 2014
Jose Hernandez: "You can work 12 hour days (if not more) and most nights and holidays. Your social life will be limited, but you will want nothing more than to cook for a living.” Photo by Kimberly Park
Shannen Tune chef Valentino Hotel Derek
Shannen Tune: “For me, cooking started as a necessity, grew to a core and developed into passion.” ChefTune.WordPress.com
Vanessa O'Donnel Ooh La La horizontal
Chef Philippe Schmit
Marene why I became a chef April 2014 Ronnie Killen To make people happy. People always love the chef .
Marene why I became a chef April 2014 Randy Rucker
chef Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio April 2014
Ben Rabbani chef head shot October 2013
Marene why I became a chef Jose Hernandez April 2014
Shannen Tune chef Valentino Hotel Derek
News_Marene Gustin_columnist_mug_head shot

“For me cooking started as a necessity, grew to a core and developed into passion,” says Shannen Tune, executive chef at Hotel Derek. “I come from a family of great cooks and everything revolved around food.”

I love food, too. And when I used to entertain a lot, people always said, “You should be a chef and have your own restaurant!”

Uh, no. I worked as a waitress in college, I cover restaurants and interview a lot of chefs and spend time in the kitchens and front of house. I would never, ever do that.

But thank God, some folks do.

Ronnie Killen, of steakhouse and BBQ fame, says he does it to make people happy. “People always love the chef!” And that’s true.

But Ben Rabbani, formerly of El Big Bad never wanted to be a chef. “I always wanted to be a cook. Cooks have all the fun.”

And apparently bakers. For Vanessa O’Donnell of Ooh La La Desserts baking brings back childhood memories of licking the bowl and tasting desserts fresh out of the oven. “If I can give someone else those same feelings and memories, it would make me happy,” she says.

 Ronnie Killen, of steakhouse and BBQ fame, says he does it to make people happy. “People always love the chef!” And that’s true. 

For some it is a calling, plain and simple. Chef Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio says, “Everyone is blessed with a gift in life, being a chef is mine.”

But it’s tough work. Chef Jose Hernandez: “You can work 12 hour days (if not more) and most nights and holidays. Your social life will be limited, but you will want nothing more than to cook for a living.”

But being a chef can have some perks as the French chef Philippe Schmit explains. “I always dreamed of traveling and one great advantage of become a chef is that I knew that from day one, thanks to my cooking teacher Mr. Coustou, it would allow me to come to the U.S. because I was obsessed by food,” he says.

But one of the best answers to Why I Became a Chef was from Chandler Rothbard, formerly of BRC Gastropub and the now-closed Roots. I asked him that question once and he explained a rather unusual childhood.

“I spent 10 months at Paradise Cove in Western Samoa when I was a young teen. The food was so bad we were all malnourished, but if you got a care package from home with spices in it you could make something edible. That’s when I got interested in cooking.”

Now, in case you missed all the news stories about World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools and the investigations of their “behavioral modification programs for teens,” in the last decade, the programs and schools were very controversial. They are now closed and there are still lawsuits pending.

Paradise Cove was apparently one of the worst since it operated offshore. Basically it was a high priced tough love camp that made the Green Lake Camp from Holes look like a four-star resort.

Then there’s this on choosing the chef's life from Randy Rucker: “Reckon it's the only thing I am decent at and could make a living doing.”

Finally there’s this from chef Tune: “I also knew that there is no office job that could handle my antics. The kitchen was the only place where we could put out 100 plates of perfection and at the end of the night douse someone in marinara if it was theri last day.”

Well, that explains it. I love my job but I can’t even dump a vat of marinara sauce over someone’s head. Even though I’ve wanted to do it.

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