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A Chef James, FoodReference.com interview with Mark Gold, former executive chef of Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge in Orange County, California. May 2007
CHEF JAMES: Why did you decide to pursue a career with food? Can you tell us where your interest in the field began and a little bit about how your career has unfolded?
CHEF MARK GOLD: I always enjoyed food growing up. I used to cook for the kids on my block - hamburgers on bagels with grilled onions and ketchup. My father once took me down to the state offices to register the name “Bagel Burgers.” My first job was at a restaurant called Trumps. I walked up to the back door and was told they were looking for someone with more experience and gave me a name of a place on Melrose called Border Grill, and told me they were looking for help. I went to apply there, and was asked to dice an onion. Having never diced one before, they as well had the same answer, “More experience!” I got a call back from Trumps a week later and they said that they had a position opening up in the pastry department as well as prepping for tea service. I accepted, and that is how I began my career.
CHEF JAMES: What do you enjoy most about your work? What are your greatest stresses? Your greatest joys?
CHEF MARK GOLD: I love the intensity and energy a kitchen has when it is busy. I like being in charge and orchestrating the flow and direction of the kitchen. It is like being a conductor of an orchestra. I stress a lot about making sure that everything is perfect, especially when we are busy. Sometimes I get embarrassed to enter the dining room, as I feel at times we did not live up to the guests’ expectations. I think I am, at times (or so I’m told) too hard on myself. I can’t help it though. I just want everyone to have the best experience, and if we do not deliver on that, then we have failed and that’s difficult for me to accept. One of my joys is to build a strong and passionate team. I like to create a feeling of family and that we are all supported by, and only as good as, the individual standing beside you.
CHEF JAMES: Do you have any comments on the use of real cork, plastic cork or screw caps on wine? Will most quality wines have screw caps in 25 years?
CHEF MARK GOLD: I happen to be very old fashioned in my beliefs. I believe cork is the way to go. It has been around for a long time. Why change?
CHEF JAMES: Are Americans in general feeling more comfortable when ordering wines at a restaurant? Are we becoming more confident or adventurous when ordering wine or beer to go with our meals?
CHEF MARK GOLD: I can only base my decision on the experiences I have had in restaurants based mostly in California. In my opinion, yes. I remember growing up, my mom would drink Blue Nun. That is all she knew. White Zinfandel as well. But now a days, people are drinking more wine, and with the internet and all of the wine publications, they are educating themselves as well. People are more knowledgeable. They are willing to try new grapes whereas before it was mostly Merlot and Chardonnay.
CHEF JAMES: Do culinary schools devote enough time to beverage education (wine, beer, coffee and tea)?
CHEF MARK GOLD: I do not think so. I believe it is up to the individual to learn not only about beverage service, but also about educating themselves in food trends and service issues, besides what the schools are offering.
CHEF JAMES: Do you have any strong feelings on whether it is better to get a culinary education first, or is learning 'on the job' still a viable career path for aspiring chefs? What advice would you give to someone in high school who would like to pursue a culinary career?
CHEF MARK GOLD: I remember when I went to school, there were maybe 100 schools around the country to choose from. The cost was $26,000 for a two-year program. Now there are thousands of schools, with the cost of $50,000 or more. If someone came to me and asked me what path to take, I would have to tell them to take the $50,000, go to Spain or France and work for free at a number of Michelin-starred restaurants. Live off the money you would have used for tuition. If I had two resumes on my desk, and one was from the CCA in San Francisco, and the other one had staged for two years at Michel Bras, I’m hiring the latter. I know that this person has been well trained, is organized, has passion, is willing to learn and has had solid training. I am not so sure if the person coming out of culinary school has had that type of training.
CHEF JAMES: What are some of the qualities that you feel a successful chef should have?
CHEF MARK GOLD: Above everything else, he must have love for what he does and a passion to be the best and continue to push and stay ahead in terms of trends and continue to evolve. Must be dedicated and committed to the arts. When I go back and look at old menus from last year or earlier, I think to myself “What was I thinking!”
CHEF JAMES: What 3 cookbooks or culinary books would you pick to save in a time capsule to be opened 500 years from now?
CHEF MARK GOLD: Michel Bras, Feran Adria, Alain Ducasse
CHEF JAMES: If you were stranded on a desert island for a year surviving on coconuts and seaweed, what would be the first meal you would like to eat after you were rescued? The first beverage?