|Chef Al Green via May 1964|
So, Ive been going back and fourth with myself contemplating whether I should get into the "Black History Month" "Black Chefs in History thing". Seriously, Ive been thinking about this since Feb. 1st. I was chatting with my boss recently and she asked me about my cooking background, and I mentioned that my grandfather is a retired chef. Well thats when the lightbulb went off... My "ahaaaa" moment if you will. I must say, my grandfather, Chef Alfred Green has taught me a lot about food and the food industry looking back. He is my biggest fan, and is absolutely smitten at the fact that his one and only granddaughter is a chef, just like him. I starting thinking back to the days of how he used to talk to me in my bouncer about food and ingredients when I was barely old enough to stand up on my own. As I got older I sat on the washing machine in the kitchen, and he let me stick my hands in the food and talk to me about flavors. Now, the tables have turned and I had the chance to sit down with him, chef to chef, and talk about the industry; what he hated the most about it and what he thinks of young chefs like me in the industry today.
Where did you get your experience?I started as a bus boy at a Frech restaurant La Paris in Birmingham, Alabama. Being a bus boy was a great thing to start off as because I was constantly learning. Being in the restaurant and around food was the best option for me, because food provided direction and a goal for my life which ultimately was to become a chef. La Paris was my first genuine experience of all the benefits of being in the industry at that time. I did so well there that when I was sick, the owner would call me at home to ask me questions about the food and even offered me the chance to learn how to become a chef. Also, I met my wife Jeanette at La Paris. We moved to NYC and I had a few jobs here and there until my 1st major job, which was at Oscars inside The Waldorf Astoria Hotel. I started as a cook, then night chef, and kept getting promoted. I did so well at Oscars, the Waldorf sent me to school to study management. From The Waldorf, I was doing exceptionally well, and I found myself in a bidding war between The Hilton and The Marriot hotels. Finally, I chose the Marriot Essex House, where I became the only black executive chef at that time. I also had stints at The Harrah's in Atlantic City, The Dorset Hotel in Midtown, and finally Cafe Eloise at The Plaza Hotel before I retired. I met people along the way that carried me with them, Ive had some great experiences and opportunities.
|Cookbooks my grandfather used|
Hotels to me were more viable, more stable. It provided me with more opportunity than an independent restaurant would have at the time. I got a chance to go to school, I got promotions often, and it was a constant learning experience back then. Hotels we closely run, and no one was trying to compete with each other. Employees where taken care of. All you had to do in the industry was call and just ask who was in charge, and you would be taken care of. I was an example, I always had high sales and under budget. People would ask me all the time how I managed that.
How do you feel abut the food industry today compaired to when you were apart of it?The industry today is so saturated that I feel like alot of people are missing the overall picture of what it means to be a cook and a chef in this industry. No one wants to start at the bottom now. No one wants to learn fully about everything, cooks and chefs just want quick fixes and to make it to the top as quickly as they can. When I was working in hotels, we did EVERYTHING from start to finish. Everyone helped each other succed during my time in the industry. Everyone knew everyone and everyone helped out. There is no overall view and definitely not any value.
|Waldorf Astoria ID Card via 1964|
Why do you think there is such a very small percentage of African Americans in the food industry?To start off at one point in time African Americans couldn't be chefs. It wasn't as glamorized as it is now, and cooking wasn't about feeding people and getting rave reviews in the NY Times, it was about utilizing the food we had and feeding our families. Other reasons I think its such a small percentage is because of schooling and exposure to certain foods. Many African Americans didn't and still dont have the chance to go to culinary school, so they either have to work their way up, or open a restaurant in their own neighborhood, serving food that the community is use to eating, which falls into exsposure. If your only exposed to a certain types of food, thats all your gonna focus on. I was lucky in my career to be exposed to all different types of food and different cultures of people, which helped in my style of cooking.
Whats the hardest thing about being in the food industry?
Definitely the long hours and being away from your family. You are in the kitchens and hotels for hours on end, and those hours add up. When I was working in Atlantic City I was away from my wife and kids during the week, and I came home on the weekends. Thats the part that I hated the most, being away from them. Also, being a chef means you stay at work when everyone else gets to go home, even during emergencies, like the weather or holidays.
|Oh hey me!|
What advice do you have for young chefs in the food industry right now?
Go to school! School is important. Have the upmost knowledge about your profession, and all the basic knowledge as well. Put in the time and the effort, because its seriously not going to happen over night. Make sure you start as low and you can get and work your way up. This will help you know everything about your craft. So many restaurants and food related businesses close because no one knows how to do everyones job.
What was the best things about your overall career?
Im very blessed in having a fantastic career. I worked hard, and out of that hard work, I got above and beyond. Ive hung out in the Empire Room, my daughter had her sweet 16 in the Essex House, I got to travel and so did my family. I had the chance to expose my family to culture, and of course eat fabulously.