For so many of us, childhood was at times a scary, dark place. No family is perfect and we have all had our fair share of hard times. You learn to cope. You learn to adapt. You learn to find the light in the darkest of times. As a child I found an immense amount of love and light beside my grandmother in her kitchen. For me, there was no place more safe. A woman who blanketed every human being with the love and warmth of a thousand convection ovens, she taught me that cooking was a way of exercising that love. She taught me that food had to be honest and straight from the heart. She taught me that recipes where simply history lessons. An open doorway into understanding our cultures. Grams, as all of the grandkids call her, is the reason why I cook. She is why I feel most at home in the kitchen.
Some people would say I have no formal training. I beg to differ. I was 13 when I landed my first job working in the pantry making salads, plating and garnishing desserts and doing prep work. I worked hard, as hard as I could. I paid close attention to the other line cooks and the techniques they used. I asked an obnoxious amount of questions. I was fortunate enough to have quite a few mentors who weren’t afraid to throw me to the wolves and had enough faith in me to nurture my abilities. I completely immersed myself in the service industry. You can’t buy that type of education from culinary school. I spent so much time at work I nearly didn’t graduate high school.
I was 23 when I was offered my first head chef position. This is the time I really began to cut my teeth creatively and found my true voice as a chef. When I say “voice” I believe it to be a style all your own. When you read Bukowski, you absolutely know you’re reading Bukowki. When you hear an Elvis Costello record, You are certain that you are listening to Elvis Costello. When you see a Kinsey painting, you know you are looking at a Kinsey. Do I think for a second that I actually deserve to have my name mentioned in the same sentence as iconic artists like these? Heck no. I’d be completely out of my mind to think that. I do, however, want people to taste one of my plates and absolutely know that I prepared it. For me, it’s all about finding the least common denominator. Using the best ingredients, classic techniques, and creating a dish that the customer can relate to while anticipating the creative riff or spin that makes the dish my own. I get to go to work every single day doing exactly what I love the most in this world. In the words of the late Bill Hicks: “Play it from your heart.” For me there is no other way.
— Chef Russell Skiles