Season 4 – epiBLOG 18:
One thing I know about myself is that I live to eat. You read that correctly – I “LIVE” to eat. I like just about every type of food – with the exception of quinoa. I honestly wish that people would stop trying to trick me into thinking that quinoa can actually replace mashed potatoes or rice on my plate. Realistically, it cannot. I love carbs.
Why am I discussing my food preferences in my entrepreneurial artist-focused blog? Because I’m super excited about the gentleman I had the pleasure of interviewing this month who happens to be a phenomenal chef. He and the culinary industry are definitely an artistic force to be reckoned with.
He also happens to be a former college student of mine. So, I’m extra proud.
Now… just understand, to be featured and interviewed in the Professional and Successful Artists Series within this blog, you must be working full-time as an artist. No free passes – not even to my former students whom I love. This interview was definitely earned.
Today’s topic is on my interview with Chef Warren Smith.
Chef Warren is an honors culinary graduate of The Art Institute of Phoenix. He has had his own food truck since 2014. Perfectly named – What’s Fresh? (Food Truck and Event Catering). He’s won two Thumbtack Best of Awards in both 2015 and 2016. Thumbtack is a website where consumers can find professionals for “events, home services, lessons…” and many other resources. Top professionals earn great reviews, and this illustrates to the world how customers feel about their experience with particular businesses on the website. Congratulations to Chef Warren for earning two of these awards consecutively.
He’s not just any culinary genius in a truck; he’s the real deal. He hand-picks the freshest of ingredients to provide the most nutritious and delicious of meals to his satisfied and happy customers. He went from serving lunch to individuals at their job sites to catering events that feed thousands of people. Imagine achieving these victories in such a short period of time.
So, let’s explore more about this culinary expert…
Nitara O: I had a chance to look at your website. Words can’t express just how proud I am of you and just how happy I am for you. You’ve accomplished a great deal of success. Describe how that feels at this exact moment.
Chef W: Honestly… it’s unbelievable. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve been working in food service since I was like 16 years-old. I just turned 50. So, for 34 years I’ve been in this industry and I’ve done it all. I never thought I would be working for myself. I always thought that I would be working in one of those professional kitchens. It still wakes me up at night. You know… because I still worry about “tomorrow.” As a small business owner, it’s still shocking to me that I can get up in the morning, take my little food truck out, and make a living.
Nitara O: But you’re doing it.
Chef W: (chuckling) It’s like a dream.
Nitara O: That’s beautiful. That’s what I want to hear. That’s what I want for every student. You’re following your dream.
Chef W: Yeah. And it’s possible. It’s happening.
Nitara O: That’s exactly what I want you to share with everyone. Many artists feel that isn’t a possibility. That they are always going to be this “starving artist” who is stuck with a job they can’t stand. You’re a testimony to the whole artistic world that you can have what you want.
Chef W: Thank you. It’s definitely been a journey. I was working in those professional kitchens – even after I graduated. I was working in Gold Canyon – at the PGA Tour Course out there. At the resort. And I was doing the same thing I was doing before. “500 people are coming for dinner. Break down the whole salmon. Pallets of turkey came in. I gotta break those down.” Even after finishing school, I thought that was going to be my life, you know.
Nitara O: Well, what inspired you to want to go into business for yourself after visualizing that other option as your career path for such a long time?
Chef W: It’s a really cool story.
Nitara O: This is the perfect place to share your really “cool” story. I’m all ears.
Chef W: So, one day I was just out working at the golf course… my phone rings in my pocket and it turns out to be my best friend Wade. He says, “Warren, what are you doing?” I tell him I’m cooking dinner for 1,200 people for a banquet. And I was breaking down a pallet of pork loins at that moment.
Nitara O: You were busy.
Chef W: Sure was. But he goes on to say, “I have some really good news for you. I bought you a food truck today.” I said, “What?”
Nitara O: Wow.
Chef W: I’m thinking that he’s joking. I’m asking if he’s serious. And he’s totally serious. He tells me it’s down in New Mexico and that it’s going to be awesome and that it’s going to change my life. He tells me, “I’m so tired of watching you work so hard for somebody else. It’s time you follow your dream and open your own business.”
Nitara O: That’s amazing to have a friend who believes in you so much.
Chef W: It is. So, I go down to Farmington, New Mexico to look at this truck. (laughing) It was a giant piece of crap. It didn’t run. It had six bald tires. I mean, it was a giant piece of crap. It was falling apart inside. Didn’t have any equipment in it. It was actually the All-Beef Ripper Dog Truck down in Farmington. I’m asking Wade what he actually wanted me to do with it. And I didn’t see it. I didn’t see it at first.
Nitara O: You mean the vision? You didn’t see the vision?
Chef W: Yeah. Exactly. I didn’t see it. Wade was just telling that we were going to fix that thing up and that it was going to be awesome. So, we put a new motor in it while we were in Farmington because it wouldn’t start without that happening. I bought some tires and we drove back to Phoenix.
Nitara O: That’s unbelievable.
Chef W: And my dad (Pat) and I spent three months building that truck.
Nitara O: This is giving me goosebumps — what a story! You put a lot into this.
Chef W: Yes, ma’am. It was a complete overhaul. New ceilings were put in. New equipment. Water lines and pumps. Sinks. Everything. We had to do everything to spec because there are a bunch of requirements by the city to run a food truck. Those guidelines are strict. Like I said, my dad and I were working on the truck for three months. Nights and weekends while I was working a full-time job during the day. My mom helped me to come up with the menus. And the rest is history.
Nitara O: And look at you now.
Chef W: Winner of two Thumbtack Awards.
Nitara O: I know, right? Now explain the details of your wins.
Chef W: We won Best Food Service Professionals in both 2015 and 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona on Thumbtack.
Nitara O: I can’t stop smiling.
Chef W: The customers on Thumbtack are the ones that vote for businesses to be the best of the best.
Nitara O: Nice. So, these are people who are enjoying your food on a regular basis.
Chef W: Correct.
Nitara O: So what was the time frame of when you drove that truck from Farmington, New Mexico to the time you actually launched your business?
Chef W: We picked up the truck in December. December 2013. And we launched in May of the following year.
Nitara O: Six months. You were busy. Did you always know that you wanted to be a chef? And if so, describe the experience that inspired you.
Chef W: I didn’t actually know at first. But I was working in San Diego. As a Dishwasher. At a very busy fish house. I was washing dishes from three in the afternoon till two in the morning. And I was watching those guys work the line back there. I was thinking that’s where the action is and that’s where I wanted to be. They were showing me a little bit at a time. How the stations work. How to fry things. Then one night the Fry Cook was so drunk that he couldn’t work. And the Lead Cook turns to me and says, “Now’s your chance. I got another guy to do dishes. If you can work the fryers tonight, you can have this job.” 16 years-old. I was excited.
Nitara O: Amazing.
Chef W: And I became the Fry Cook after working there for six months.
Nitara O: How long does that process usually take? I’m not familiar with culinary positions.
Chef W: Well, that’s how it used to be with kitchens. Not anymore. This leads back into why I ended up going back to college when I did.
Nitara O: Perfect segue. I also wanted to ask you why you went back to get your degree when you were already working in the culinary field.
Chef W: Great question. There were these young kids coming into the kitchen with degrees and taking management positions. Much younger than I was. They were in their twenties. And I was in my forties at the time. One of the reasons I wasn’t an Executive Chef at one of those high-end resorts was because I didn’t have a college degree. If I was ever going to stand out as an “older person” in the kitchen, well you know how that is… it’s a young man’s game in the kitchen.
Nitara O: I see why you felt you needed to stand out and why you felt the practical experience wasn’t enough.
Chef W: That’s right. See, I worked my way up in kitchens. I didn’t have a degree in Culinary Arts while gaining the practical experience. I mean – if you think Gordon Ramsey is tough… he is nothing compared to the chefs that I grew up with in the 1980s in kitchens. That’s how you learned. You learned in the trenches. As the industry progressed… corporations and big companies started looking for people who had a college degree.
Nitara O: And you were open to learning what you thought would be beneficial to you?
Chef W: I really was. The thing is, I never had any experience in costing menus, and so forth – I didn’t have that experience. I didn’t know how to run a business. If I was ever going to do that – you know, go beyond being the banquet cook in the corporate world – which is what I thought I was going to be doing – I needed to go back to college to get a degree. And that’s when you and I met.
Nitara O: (smiling) You were one of my strongest students. You worked so hard in both my English and Effective Speaking courses.
Chef W: Thanks. I treated all of my courses the same. Culinary and General Education classes. They were all important to me. Anyway, now kids come out of college and they start out as line cooks. It used to be that you work your way up from the bottom or you don’t get in.
Nitara O: If you can give any advice to an up-and-coming artist that you know would actually work when it’s applied and help them to actually make a living with their art, what would that advice be?
Chef W: Hire an accountant.
Nitara O: (laughing) I like that. Some people want to be inspiring with that response. You appealed to the practical needs of an artist.
Chef W: (laughing) Well, you know, the thing is, I can tell you all the same bullsh#t. If you’re motivated and you’re making money, you need somebody to help you. And it might be an accountant. I needed an accountant. It might be that you need to hire somebody to help you clean the house. It might be that you need to hire somebody to drive you around. It doesn’t matter what you might need. You just need to find out what you need help with and not be afraid to ask for it or pay somebody to do it. I just can’t tell you how important the financial aspect of running a business is. If you’re not focused on it, you’re going to fail. If it wasn’t for my accountant, I would be done. I’m not smart with numbers. I’m just not. I’m not smart with taxes. You need to figure out what you’re not good at and hire someone to do it.
Nitara O: Well, thank you for taking the time to do this interview, Chef Warren. You’ve helped a lot of people by simply being willing to share your journey as a culinary artist. Thank you again.
Chef W: You’re welcome and thank you for having me, Nitara… or should I say Professor Osbourne?
Today’s LESSON is to move forward with your dreams and goals, despite any challenging circumstances that you’re faced with.
FUN ASSIGNMENT: Acknowledge the goals that you’ve been holding off on pursuing due to fear and doubt. Write those goals down. Underneath each of those goals, write down a list of possible actions that you can take to move forward in achieving those goals. Break those actions down into manageable tasks that you can consistently do. Remember, Chef Warren had a goal to get his degree in Culinary. He had to take several actions and complete several tasks to materialize the end result. It’s never too late to go after what you want. Simply create opportunities for yourself and make it happen.
If you happen to be in the Phoenix Metropolitan area, consider booking Chef Warren Smith and What’s Fresh? for all of your catering and culinary needs.
Resources: Google and Thumbtack.com