Being a great cook might not be a genetically inherited trait, but having a parent who is a gifted chef definitely helps. In honor of Father’s Day, we talked to a trio of father and son chefs, the latter of which credit their dads’ work in kitchens for their own culinary success. These three sons are shining brightly as they carry on the family business.
Fabio and Luca Trabocchi
Fabio Trabocchi has a James Beard Award and has been named Food & Wine’s Best New Chef. But the chef-owner of Fiola, Fiola Mare, and Casa Luca in Washington, D.C., didn’t want to push either of his children to become chefs. Nonetheless, when his son, Luca, turned four, Fabio put him to work doing small tasks to help make Sunday suppers at home. By age six, Luca was using a dull knife to cut up ingredients. A year later, he asked his father if he could join him in the kitchen at Fiola. “I saw how hard he worked,” says Luca, who is now 12-years-old. “I thought what he was doing was pretty cool.”
The young toque started working the pastry station because his mother, Maria, didn’t want him next to open flames and hot grills in the kitchen. The pastry team taught him how to make a multitude of treats, including macarons, ice cream, chocolates, and bomboloni. The experience proved equally enriching for Fabio but on a different level. “Luca reminds me of the joy of being in the kitchen,” he says. “It’s refreshing and energizing.”
As Luca grew up, he helped his father with more complex cooking, such as grilling fish at the end of service when the kitchen calmed down or coming in early to help him make pasta from scratch. As they worked together side by side, his father has taught him culinary skills and imprinted his overriding philosophy of never giving up. “Cooking is an art,” says Luca. “There are mistakes you have to make in order to learn how to do it right.”
Luca still isn’t sure if he wants to pursue a career as a chef, but Fabio is content knowing his son will know how to cook a meal – and a good one, at that – after his training. “I just want him to be happy,” says Fabio. “I found ‘my voice’ through what I do. If he feels the same way, he’s more than welcome to have a career in the kitchen. If he doesn’t, that’s okay, too.”
Martial and Mathieu Noguier
Growing up, Mathieu Noguier spent a lot of time in the kitchen with his father, three-time James Beard Award nominee Martial Noguier and chef-owner of Chicago’s bistronomic. His dad would place him up on the pass, so Mathieu could watch the action unfold. When he was six-years-old, his father gave him a more active role by moving him to the pastry kitchen, where Mathieu would be charged with making macarons, madeleines, and soufflés. Occasionally, when he was bored with baking, Mathieu would be placed on salad duty. He helped out in this capacity until he was a teenager, but it didn’t inspire any desire to follow in his father’s footsteps. “I didn’t want to work in the industry,” he says. “I saw how hard it was and I knew the hours he was working. I wanted to stay away from all that. Plus, everybody who was doing it told me not to do it, so I figured they knew what they were talking about.”
When it came time to think about a career, he enrolled at King’s College in New York City and began working toward getting a degree in economics. However, the coursework didn’t ignite his interest. Mathieu began cooking at home to relax after class and finally decided to take a break from school to try his hand at cooking professionally. Back at his father’s restaurant, he began helping out with the morning prep work and doing the dishes. “My father is an old school guy, so he wanted me to start at the bottom,” he says.
He didn’t want his first full-time culinary job to be with his dad, though, so he pulled some strings to score at job at Melisse in Santa Monica, California. After that, he began a two-year stint working under his father at bistronomic.
His father likes to dole out lessons to the now 22-year-old chef, who recently took a break from the family business to do stages at In de Wulf in Heuvelland, Belgium, and Pottoka in Paris. “He’s entered his sage era,” says Mathieu. “The one piece of advice he’s given me that has made the biggest difference is that people who are successful are the people who are on time. He’s also always told me that cooking is easy; managing is the hard part.”
Jed and Zachery Walrath
Growing up in the small town of Rock Falls, Illinois, Zachery Walrath remembers his father, Jed, clocking in serious overtime for a food distribution company. “I learned my work ethic from him,” says the executive chef of The Florentine in Chicago. “He spent time at work when he could have been at home. I saw him trying to do right by his family and provide for us.” On the weekends, Zachery would tag along as his dad made his deliveries. “We’d just wander around kitchens,” he says. “I was very curious. That started my foundational interest in cooking.”
At home, Jed showed his son some of the culinary tricks he picked up while working as a short order cook – he now works at the Candlelight Inn in Sterling, Illinois, – including how to make soups from scratch. Zachery got a job at Hardee’s when he was 15, knocking out orders of breakfast sandwiches and cinnamon raisin biscuits. Still, he was convinced his career wouldn’t be in the restaurant business. However, after pursuing degrees to become a kindergarten teacher and an IT tech, he realized cooking was his true calling, so he enrolled at The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. A high-profile gig at State and Lake inside the Wit Hotel followed, which lead to his current gig at the Florentine.
He still relies on his father for advice. “I’ll call him at 12:30 after shift, right before he goes to bed, and talk to him if I’m having a bad day,” Zachery says. “He tells me how to handle myself, be a good employee, and have a level head.”
His dad is incredibly happy he ended up pursuing a culinary career. “I get a lot of ‘I’m proud of you, son,’” says Zachery. “Where I’m from, not a lot of people leave and go do something. He’s glad he does what he does because I do what I do.”
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell.
Photo credits: JWKPhoto.com (Martial and Mathieu Noguier).