Chef Daniel Holzman on The Best Way to Learn to Cook


2 years ago



Daniel Holzman

1 appearance

Daniel Holzman is the chef and restaurateur behind New York City's The Meatball Shop and Danny Boy's Famous Original Pizza in Los Angeles. His new book, "Food IQ: 100 Questions, Answers, and Recipes to Raise Your Cooking Smarts," is available now.


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Do you think that people starting out, like if you've really never had any experience cooking, do you think that a culinary school or some sort of a class is the way to go? Or do you think you should just start simply and slow from a book or an online tutorial? I was talking to my buddy Kyle. Kyle, man. So Kyle came down here with me. I was like, yo, I'm going to Austin. I'm going to be there a day earlier. I'm going to be eating barbecue. I should come down here and let's have some fun. And he came down. He's got a couple of restaurants up in San Francisco Bay Area. He's an amazing chef. He's a great travel buddy. And I was just yesterday, I was like, yo, man, talk to me about culinary school. What do you think? What's our opinion about that? Because I went to culinary school. I dropped out. I didn't make it through. He went to culinary school. If you want to be a chef, I don't think culinary school is necessarily the best route if you want to be a chef of an independent restaurant. If you want to be a home cook, there's a lot to learn quickly from culinary school. I think that's good. As a non-matriculated kind of class by class, that's a great opportunity. Taking some cooking classes as a home cook, you learn a lot. If you want to be a chef, it's a hands-on experience in the restaurant that's going to get you there. But I think there's definitely a use for taking cooking classes as a home cook. You're not the only one who's told me this. That sentiment has been echoed by a lot of great chefs that I've talked to. I said the same thing. My problem is also, though, there are a lot of culinary jobs out there. Think about all the hotels and all the cruise ships and all the corporate cafeterias. There's so many culinary jobs out there. If that's a goal, if you want to work in one of those jobs, then culinary school can be a great road to give you the needed ... That can be a great route to get one of those jobs. If you want to have a standalone restaurant, maybe something more avant-garde, maybe something where you're a little more creative, then culinary school might not get you there. It can put you at a disadvantage because you get ... I was very lucky. I got a full scholarship. The James Beard Foundation gave me a full scholarship to go to culinary school. It worked out for me. For so many folks, you go to culinary school, you come out with big debt, and then you can't afford to take a job at a restaurant that's paying minimum wage because you need to pay back that loan. If you get a job at a restaurant, the restaurant will essentially give you a task, and then if you show effort and show that you have work ethic and show that you're really interested, they'll slowly train you to learn new techniques and cook things. This gets into a whole other issue that's going on right now with the labor laws and how they've really changed the way that people in restaurants learn how to cook, and cooks come up in the business. I came up as the last of the world where the apprentice system was still a piece of the puzzle, if that makes sense. I went and worked at La Bernadette's super fancy French restaurant. I was like 15 years old, 14 years old. And the chef was like, I can't pay you. You're not legal to work, but you can come and work for free. So did you always know that you wanted to be a chef? I loved to cook. When did you start? I started when I was very young. I get pictures of cooking with my mom, very, very young. And she supported me in that, so we had making pasta in the kitchen and hanging the noodles off the back of chairs and having ... She was very, very supportive of my interest. When I was 13 years old, I got a job delivering pizza at a pizzeria across the street. Genos pizza. Vincent. How'd you deliver them? On a bike? Walking. And I had a harmonica. I would play the harmonica. I thought I was the coolest kid in the world. It was not cool. Meanwhile, my partner, Michael, who I ended up opening a restaurant with, Michael's ... We should talk about him too. He's a very cool guy, very inspirational. He was a cool kid. He was delivering on rollerblades, making twice the tips quick. He's getting around. But delivering pizzas, and then I was working at this Mexican restaurant, San Melita's. I was delivering Mexican food, and I was like, man, these guys in the kitchen are so cool. I got tattoos and the fire, and everybody says, yes, chef. I was really attracted to the kitchen, and I started spending time in the kitchen. I was working at this vegan restaurant. Mike was delivering ... He was delivering vegan food and other things on his rollerblades. He was like 14 years old. He was selling weed. He was like, green machine, selling weed. He was like, you just order your vegan seven-layer dip, and you get a bag of ... At the time, it was the first time that they had chronic. They called it chronic. It's like fresh and green. I was in love with this girl. She was amazing. My best friend at the time, and her father was the maitre d' of this fancy French restaurant. He came in, and I was working in the kitchen, because whenever I wasn't delivering, I was in the kitchen. I loved it. I was learning everything I could, and the chef had just cut herself. She had to leave, and they were like, we got to close the restaurant. I was like, there's like two more dishes to go out. He came in. He was like, I was the only guy in the kitchen. He was like, busy restaurant's full. He's like a 14-year-old kid, friend of his daughter's. He's like, you're the chef here? I'm like, yeah, absolutely. He's like, you should come. I work at this fancy French restaurant. You should meet the chef. He got me an interview. I went and worked there, so like 15, 14 years old. I go and work, go to this fancy French restaurant. I had no idea after school, and the chef meets me, and he's like, he's late. He's like, you're lucky, because I was taking a haircut, because otherwise, you would be fired already. I was like, oh my god, I have no idea what's going on. And he's like, but you can come, and you can watch. You can't touch anything. You can watch after school on Wednesdays. You come, and on weekends. I started working there, and it was fun, man. It was super cool. What kind of tasks did they have you do initially? The first job was I got to bring the fish from the refrigerator to the guy that was going to cook the fish. I could carry it across the kitchen. And then I got to clean calamari. My dad called me the calamari kid. He had a whole song for me. I was like the squid kid. I remember one time I went in, and the chef was like, the calamari, some of it has gone bad. I need you to smell every piece. And I walked in, and he's like, I was like, chef, I smelled every piece of calamari. He's like, I know. Look in the mirror. And I was like, my nose is all black from the squid. I was like, oh, man. And then he had me clean lobsters. It was the first time I ever cried. You got to rip these things apart so barbaric. And I was like, I'm not doing that. I start crying. He's like, you can rip them apart, or you can be fired. I was like, oh, my god. I was fucking crying. And you weren't even making any money. No, I was like 14 years old crying over these lobsters, apologizing to everyone. Actually, there was a guy, Manuel, he set one free. He took a lobster. He was like, I'm going to set. I don't know what was for my. He threw it in the ocean. I think he put it in the East River. We had a little drunk. It might have made it. It was brackish. He might have made it to the ocean. And then I got to open oysters. I was the oyster guy for a long time. And then eventually I made it up to a hot app station, which was like a big deal. But I had a bad attitude, man. I had a bad attitude. I met this guy, Roy Choi. He was Roy Choi's amazing chef from L.A. He's got incredible. He's a legendary character now, but he's still a dear friend. He was on the station with me and he describes it. He's just like this little kid. I came in from culinary school. I just wanted to learn. And this kid was just such an asshole. I was just like, you're an idiot. You have no idea what you're doing. Like, stand there. Don't touch anything. Watch. Don't talk. That's how you talk to him? Yeah, I was just like completely. How old are you today? Like 15 years old. I got punched in the face a few times. I was like, I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that.