With the opening of Boston Chops earlier this month, Chef Chris Coombs is now the Executive Chef of three very well-received Boston area restaurants. He’s competed twice on The Food Network’s Chopped. He was voted Food and Wine’s The People’s Best New Chef: New England in 2011.
Oh, and it’s probably worth pointing out that he’s not even 30.
Part of the new guard of young power-house chefs, Chris Coombs is an example of what makes the Boston food scene so exciting! I recently had a chance to check in with Chris about his start in the industry, being selected one of Forbes “30 under 30” in Food and Wine, and what has driven him to be so successful.
Foodie Journal: Was there a particular moment where you
realized that you really loved to cook, or have you always been interested?
Chris Coombs: I have loved food since I was 11 or 12
years old when I began working in my neighbor’s seafood restaurant. I haven’t
looked back since!
FJ: What was your first experience in a professional kitchen
CC: My first big break into fine
dining was working for Ming Tsai at Blue Ginger in 2003. Ming and his chefs
really were my first example of a truly professional kitchen. I remember
feeling like I was years behind everyone else in the kitchen, which I was. Many
of the cooks were kind enough to take me under their wing. I was always willing
to work longer and harder than everyone else, even if I wasn’t as talented at
the time. I would show up between 6:00 and 7:00 every morning and work until
midnight, or 1:00 AM six days a week! It was an amazing externship and
FJ: As a graduate of the CIA, do you think culinary school
is a must for aspiring chefs?
CC: I do not think that culinary
school is a must. I would rather work for free in an amazing kitchen than pay
$30,000 per year to be taught by a “variety of chefs with different skill
levels” for short periods of time. Culinary school is a good base, but once you
get out, most chefs will tell you to forget what you learned anyway. There is a
ton of information out there these days, and many different ways to acquire it.
FJ: If I walked up to you and said, “Hey, I want to become a
chef”, what would your advice be?
CC: Stick to watching the Food
Network, and cook at home. It will be a lot more fun and a lot less work. Get a
nine-to-five making six figures and enjoy going out to eat. This business isn’t
for everyone. You need to have a very understanding family, and very few of us
are ever fortunate enough to make it to the top. Most people have no idea what
this job really means.
FJ: Many chefs I’ve spoken with have made that comment,
about how hard it can be, and how it’s easy for people to lose sight of that
fact. What’s one of the tougher aspects of working in a professional kitchen?
CC: Being pushed to your
physical and mental limit daily, with very little recovery time. You have to be
addicted to it to keep coming back for more.
FJ: You were named one of the “30 under 30” in food &
wine by Forbes in 2012. Can you talk a little about what that type of
recognition meant to you? Does it serve as motivation to live up to that, or
does it not really change anything for you?
CC: Forbes 30 under 30 was certainly
a humbling experience. I was certainly honored to be on the same list as the
likes of Lady Gaga, Lebron James, and Mark Zuckerberg. But, more so, I was
really excited to represent Boston on the list. It is a nice honor, but it
raises the bar even higher for me personally. Most of my professional career I
have focused myself on unattainable goals, for example the idea of perfect
food. It is really just a concept that doesn’t actually exist; however we chase
that goal at Deuxave every day. I love hard work. I love to be challenged. And,
with 3 restaurants and 160 employees I couldn’t be any happier. Moving forward
I am excited see what will come next. Hopefully many great things are still to
FJ: You recently opened a new restaurant, Boston Chops. I’ve
been hearing some great things so far! How did you come up with the concept for
CC: Boston Chops is a dream come
true for my business partner, Brian Piccini, and I. We fell in love with the
location and the needs of the South End as a whole. We both enjoyed the idea of
a traditional steakhouse, but found it to be very boring, and not very much
fun! Boston Chops takes the concept of steakhouse and brings it into 2013,
which we coin as Urban Steak Bistro.
FJ: People that love food tend to have some really cool stories
to tell about their experiences with food. Do you have a favorite food memory?
CC: I actually gain more pleasure
from cooking for others and amazing them than I actually do consuming food
myself. This work has been as much of an outlet to express myself as an artist as
it has been for me to be an entrepreneur or a businessman. That is the true
reward in my work; Making people happy, and giving them an experience that they
won’t soon forget!
Chris Coombs in the Executive Chef of Deuvaxe, located at 371 Commonwealth Ave in Boston, dbar, located at 1236 Dorchester Ave in Dorchester, and Boston Chops, located at 1375 Washington St in Boston.