By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
Apprenticeships, still held in wide esteem throughout Europe, are generally understood to be an employment relationship lasting between two to four years in which services are rendered in exchange for instruction and training (and sometimes a small stipend) in the master's discipline. Tim Andriola, chef/co-owner of Timo, isn't sold on the idea. "With school you get knowledge from a number of sources, in all different ways, shapes, and forms. Provided that you work during your schooling, you will walk away with practical knowledge as well. With an apprenticeship you get the view of the chef you are working for, and his opinions only right or wrong."
In a sense, all would-be chefs start out apprenticing in one manner or another nowadays it just means working with one or more talented culinary craftsmen either before, during, after, or in lieu of formal training. We spoke with some of this town's top toques all of whom jumped from the frying pan of culinary schooling into the fire of professional restaurant kitchens to see how they managed the transition.
Allen Susser is the man who put the mango in the Mango Gang. Nationally recognized via his Chef Allen's restaurant, cookbooks, food publications, television appearances, and extensive charity work, he is precisely one of those star chefs whom J&W students aspire to become. Susser began by earning a degree in hospitality management at New York City Tech, followed by a bachelor's in restaurant management from Florida International University.
"That was 30 years ago," Susser recalls, "when there was no glory in cooking. I went to cook because I love to cook. The school prepared me pretty well, not at a high end, but the basics of what was going on in kitchens." Just the same, he attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris afterward "to find out more about food. Back then, Paris was still the center of the culinary world." His first job was making souffles at Le Cirque in New York City ("I just wanted to be in the best restaurant in town"). He would spend a couple of years honing his craft at that legendary establishment, but would "work ten years before I looked at myself as being a chef." Susser has since been accorded another academic credential: an honorary doctorate in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales.
It wasn't long ago that the busboy swabbing Chef Allen's floors at the end of each evening was a skinny chef-wannabe named Tim Andriola. He was a dishwasher at age fourteen, moving his way to prep, salads, and hot foods at the restaurant while attending high school. His boss suggested he go to culinary school, and he didn't know of anything he liked to do better than cook, so he applied to and ultimately attended the Culinary Institute of America (a.k.a. the CIA). He moved to South Florida shortly after graduating in 1992 and was offered employment by a few of Miami's most notable chefs, but was adamant in his desire to work for Chef Allen.
"Of course he was the one that didn't have a job for me," says Andriola, "so I told him I would do anything wash dishes, whatever it would take. He told me to talk to the maitre d', who hired me as a busboy. I worked for $4.25 an hour and tips." That was at night, but every morning he would volunteer his time and help the chef de cuisine. "After about two months, I had worked my way into the kitchen, getting paid $9.50."
While working at Chef Allen's, Andriola also studied and earned a degree in hospitality management from FIU, but didn't consider himself a chef "until I was given that title from Mark Militello at the Nash in 1999 or maybe a little before that, when I was a chef de cuisine at Allen's. It kind of got heaped on my shoulders at the ripe old age of 24. I knew I was way too young and inexperienced, but I grew into it." Andriola has since teamed with Rodrigo Martinez to open Sunny Isles' smashingly popular Timo.
The maitre d' who gave Andriola his break was Dale LoSasso, who now collaborates with husband Dewey at their North One 10 restaurant in North Miami. Like Andriola, Dewey also went directly from high school to the CIA, graduating the institute in 1983. He had worked in restaurants since before his high school days, and continued to do so, without pay, while at culinary school. "I drove an hour each way two days a week. I also worked for free at fish houses on the Jersey Shore to learn about fish while working my other jobs, and I still work for free in kitchens when I go away for the summer." Dewey's first chef position came at a restaurant on Palmetto Park Road in Boca Raton. "I was the sous chef there and was promoted because the chef was drinking a little too much. Plus I was a cheap fix for them. That happens a lot; they promote a sous chef because it's cheaper. I was okay with that. I was like 23, 24 at the time." He'd go on to work as Donatella Versace's private chef, spend ten years as executive chef at Mickey Wolfson's Foundlings Club, and another decade at China Grill Management, where he "got to travel all over the world doing food research."