A Chef In Love

About

THE STRUGGLE IS NOTHING BUT LOVE.

A Chef in Love, a time to reflect on our realthionships, our interactions, our obesssions, and our passions. A study in the what if? What if I wake up today and do what I love, what love is telling me to do.

TO CONTACT THE CHEF: BrooklynStandard@gmail.com

An interview with The Chef:

HDYGTFAJ: Cody Utzman of Brooklyn Standard

Mondays suck. Especially if you hate your job. But the day doesn’t have to be a total waste. You can now look forward to reading about ReadyMakers who have worked their way into f*&%ing awesome jobs—and maybe find a little inspiration to jumpstart your own career in the process—right here, every Monday.

cody_utzman

During the cold days of this past winter, a new store opened on the stretch of Brooklyn’s Nassau Avenue that I walk down every day to get to the subway. I was happy to have a place nearby to get good coffee, and when I first went inside of the new shop, Brooklyn Standard, I became positively fascinated. The store is built on the model of a bodega—the ubiquitous NYC corner store, selling basic groceries and convenience items—but with a heavy vegan/locavore/gourmet strand woven into its DNA. So I stop in for Stumptown coffee, and also for sandwiches that take the the city’s quickie eggs-on-a-roll tradition to new lengths (”The Killer,” for example, is eggs, bacon, cheese, onions, oven-dried cherry tomatoes, mayo and tomato gastrique on grilled foccaccia), and especially to see what’s new. The other day, there were bags of foraged dried morels for sale on the counter, house-made kimchi and dilly beans in glass jars in the fridge. So I was very happy to track down Cody Utzman, a restauranteur and the man who’s brought the Standard’s unique presence to the neighborhood.—KS

VITAL STATS
Occupation: Chef / Restaurateur
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Age: 31
First Job: Burger King, Corvallis, Or
Best Job: Private Chef in Boston, MA
Greatest Professional Challenge: Opening three restaurants Brooklyn in less than 3 years.
Salary During 20s: 90k

1. Hi, Cody Utzman. How did you get that f*&%ing awesome job?

I had no other options! I am totally unemployable!

In 2004 I left a very high paying wonderful job as a private chef in Boston, and headed to New York. For five years I had cooked dinner five nights a week for the same two people. I desperately needed a change. When I arrived in New York City I sought out the typical jobs at high-end restaurants, the likes of Daniel and Balthazar. The reality of these kitchens was far different from what I expected and it was quickly determined that I was totally unemployable. Five years as a private chef was looked down upon by these types of restaurants. In addition the pay was a fraction of what I was used to. For the next two years I took random catering, film production and private chef jobs, and traveled extensively. The whole time I was constantly seeking a location within my neighborhood ofGreenpoint, Brooklyn to open a restaurant. After six failed lease-signing attempts and multiple investors giving the green light only to pull the plug at the last minute, one finally stuck. That was Brooklyn Label, my first restaurant.

2. What’s distinctive about Brooklyn Standard, and where’d you get the idea?

3547493396_d4342ba814Brooklyn Standard is a natural foods grocery, coffee bar, bakery, convenience mart, and eatery. It is the new standard for the ‘bodega’: giving the neighborhood what it needs. Everything you love about your local bodega: smokes, soda, cheap eats, egg on a roll, deli sandwiches, newspapers and magazines, and late night munchies. As sustainability-conscious owners, we are focused on local employment and products, homemade food, being involved in the community, and “green” operations. We are always inquiring “what is Brooklyn making?” These products are sold on The Standard’s shelves, with some of the product-makers using the Brooklyn Standard kitchen as an incubator for their creations. All other items are sourced from local farms and companies. We make our own products that are available under the The Standard brand name, from hummus to pasta sauce to fresh vegan pasta, house pickled beets, prepared vegan and vegetarian meals, kimchi, and selected meats. Brooklyn Standard is simultaneously providing the freshest and best, fostering self-employment, and caring for our planet.

3. How did you get started working with food?

My father only knew how to make ham hocks and lima beans and spaghetti…we ate it over and over…ugh! Horrible.

While home one day from school, most likely expelled for smoking, I found some Gourmetmagazines above the fridge in the top cabinet, saw all the beautiful pictures and realized there was more to life than ham hocks and Lima beans.

There was recipe for trout almondine. I had just been fishing with my dad, and luckily had a fresh trout in the cooler. I made the trout almondine from the recipe and took it to him. Very proud, he deemed me the new chef of the house. I sealed the deal with the next menu item, chocolate eclairs.

When I was just 17 I started in culinary school, realizing that a chef job would give me the ability to travel and get out of small town Oregon.

4. When did you know you wanted to own your own business?

Growing up, being raised by my father, a self-proclaimed professional hustler/traveling salesman, I was groomed for this type of work. My father never worked for anybody but himself and I quickly took on this rebellious edge. Before age 21, I had never held a job longer then 6 months. I must have been through 20-30 restaurants and cities by then, generally never sticking around long enough to get the swift kick in the ass on my way out the door; that being the situation, references used to be very hard to come by. They where generally written by my best friend Brandon and we had this scheme worked out where if the employer would call to verify, we would piggyback off each other for a number of very decent jobs in the early days. Owning my own business came naturally. When I was 17 I made up business cards that said “Vagabond Catering Services,” with a little logo of a guy and a rucksack full of cooking pans and tools. Every year I crafted a new business idea that I always had on the side. My current restaurant group is really just a hybrid of those early business ideas, the natural progression of constantly working towards something great.

5. Did you have any role models along the way?

There are definitely people I look up to professionally, but what has always driven me is the knowledge that I really only have myself to answer to and that nobody is going to give me anything. Living in New York City you really have to make your own way. It’s a challenge every day to stay on top, focused and moving in the right direction. Nobody’s going to notice you if you fall down. They will just walk right by.

6. What were the steps you had to go through between having the idea for Brooklyn Standard, and making it real?

First off, you have to have a great idea and the passion to work for it. You have to be able to handle hearing “no” a thousand times a day and still get people to say “yes” at the end of the day. You must be able to constantly get back up when you’re down and keep pushing for whatever it is that you want. For Brooklyn Standard, our ‘bodega’ has been all about identifying what the neighborhood in which it is located really wanted from a new business. It was all about getting the community involved and including them in the project. It seems like so many businesses just pop up overnight and really never look at these factors.

As for skills needed—when I was 18, a good friend told me that a great chef was somebody who could handle everything at once and not be shaken; that has really stuck with me.

The hurdles these days are really just the internal battles I think we all struggle with—am I good enough, will I fail, will this work, will they like it? I have a tattoo across my chest that says “TRUST YOUR STRUGGLE.” I think this statement says it all.

3547321224_1ccf874f5f7. What is your typical day like?

I currently work seven days a week, about 18 hours a day. My restaurant group manages three locations, and we are in construction on two more locations. So my day constitutes checking in with all the managers, chefs, and employees first, finding out how everybody is doing, connecting with everybody on a personal level. Then I pretty much live minute to minute, tending to whatever needs to be done. This could include washing dishes, fixing a computer, changing light bulbs—anything from business and financial meetings to painting a bathroom.

I always make time every day to walk my dog Toro, water the garden at my apartment, and check in with loved ones. Three or four nights a week I will eat out at some of my favorite local restaurants, which gives me a great way to connect with my peers.

8. What are the biggest pleasures of the job? What could you do without?

The biggest pleasure is that for the last five years, I haven’t woken up in the morning andhad to go to work. When it’s your own business and you’re doing what you’re passionate about, it feels easy to work seven days a week. The rewards are  all yours and there is a satisfaction beyond comparison when you know inside that you’ve truly done a good job, you need nobody to verify it for you…you just know and you’re proud.

I could do with out the petty complaints. I know we’re in the service industry but as of late, the internet has become a place for everybody to become a critic. Review sites like Yelp give great support to restaurants, but people can be nasty. Review the food and service, but don’t cross the line to comment on the personality and appearance of people; that’s just rude.

9. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you’ve done?

When I was 16 my father picked me up from the local police station for some juvenile mischief I had gotten into. He sat me down and said, “Son, you have to get passionate about something. It doesn’t matter what it is, you just really have to want to do it; it has to move you and inspire you. GET PASSIONATE!”

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