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A Chef James, FoodReference.com exclusive interview with Chef David Lawrence, author of ‘Boy Eats World’ cookbook. David a native Californian, is a private chef and caterer. He also teaches cooking classes at gourmet food markets and is a frequent participant at regional food and wine festivals. A regular contributor to several newspapers, he lives in Los Angeles. September, 2006
CHEF JAMES: When did you first become interested in cooking? Did you cook growing up?
CHEF DAVID LAWRENCE: I can't remember a time that I wasn't interested in cooking. It's just something that feels so natural to me having a mom who was always experimenting in the kitchen. She's fearless when it comes to trying new things and I think that rubbed off on me. Her best attempts didn't always turn out, but you learn to improvise and keep the pizza deliver number close by! My mom cooked every night and we sat down together every night. I didn't always appreciate that as a kid, but now I love that we had that time together as a family, even if it was only 10 minutes because I rushed through my meal to get back outside with my friends. I think it was important and as a result I have many fond memories that center around the table. I'm grateful for that. I started cooking at about 8 years old. My first attempts were scrambled eggs and Top Ramen noodles, although not together! How's that for auspicious beginnings? My mom just really encouraged me to get in the kitchen and make messes. I don't think either of us had any idea that she was actually giving me the foundation for my future vocation. Thanks, Mom!!
CHEF JAMES: Why did you decide to pursue a culinary career? Tell us how your interest in the field began.
CHEF DAVID LAWRENCE: I never even entertained the idea of cooking for a living until my mid-twenties! I moved to Los Angeles at 23 (from Sacramento) to pursue acting. How original! And like all starving artists needed a "real job" to pay the rent. I'm too clumsy to be a waiter (although I played one on Suddenly Susan) but I really enjoyed cooking so I pounded the pavement until I found a catering company that was willing to hire me with no professional kitchen experience. They basically handed me a knife and an apron and told me to keep up or get out! It was definitely a sink or swim environment and I learned an incredible amount in a very short time. If you’d told me 10 years ago when I first moved to L.A. to pursue acting that I would eventually end up as a food writer and cookbook author, I’d have told you that you were crazy. Life is good.
CHEF JAMES: What are some of the qualities that you feel a successful chef should have?
CHEF DAVID LAWRENCE: I think a natural curiosity about food and different cultures is essential and absolutely no fear of failure. I think fear somehow permeates its way into your cooking. Just go for it and if you mess it up, call for take out! It's not the end of the world.
CHEF JAMES: What do you enjoy most about your work? What are your greatest stresses? Your greatest joys?
CHEF DAVID LAWRENCE: I love feeding people! I love to see people's faces light up when they talk about their fond memories of food or favorite family recipes. I love that food makes people so happy. That look of pure ecstasy that comes over their faces when they taste something delicious - it just doesn't get any better than that! I want to show people that cooking is fun, it's cool, it's sexy and my whole mission is just to make someone's dinner better.
CHEF JAMES: Who have been the biggest inspirations for your career?
CHEF DAVID LAWRENCE: Wow! Where do I start? Of course my mom, because it all started with her and she is like so many great home cooks everywhere. I'm convinced it's the home cooks that hold all great secrets to good cooking. Martha Stewart I've always admired. She's paved the way for so many of us and her business acumen is unparalleled. I hope to have that kind of longevity. I love Ina Garten, her ease and style inspire me and she reminds me of my mom. Of course I admire chefs like Bobby Flay and Mario Batali. They really take cooking to another level.
CHEF JAMES: Where/how do you organize your recipes in your kitchen at home? On a computer, recipe cards, scraps of paper, etc?
CHEF DAVID LAWRENCE: I wish I was that organized! So many of them are just floating around in my head and the rest are scrawled on scraps of paper and strewn about my house. I also have a magnetized dry erase board on the side of my fridge that has lots of notes on it. I live in constant fear that it will be erased before I transcribe it or forget what it all means. That's on my to-do list.
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