The Chefs Connection: What was your first job in food?
Olivier Desaintmartin: I was a vegetable assistant (commis) for about a year at the prestigious “Le Pré Catelan” in Paris, then I stayed there for 3 years and worked all stations
TCC: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
OD: I wanted to be an Archeologist or an Architect!
TCC: What’s your favorite thing about being a chef?
OD: Being able to learn in that field everyday and to pass on my knowledge and skills to others. I love to cook for family, friends and of course love to please my guests at my restaurants
TCC: Did you have an “aha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a chef?
OD: I cooked with my mom all the time. We were hunters. Every Sunday from mid September to February we cooked what we hunted. I loved it! And still do!
TCC: Best advice you ever got?
OD: Gilbert Le Coze (Le Bernardin NYC) told me In Paris after he hired me for his opening in NYC, It’s going to be hard, hard, hard! He wasn’t kidding. This is a hard job! If you don’t love it “stay out of the business”.
TCC: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
OD: I ate bats, cockroaches and sea turtle.
TCC: Your favorite ingredient.
TCC: The ingredient that turns you off the most.
OD: Overrated fiddleheads, patty pan squashes, yellow squash. Don’t mention Quinoa and Kale! (They don’t deserve a capital letter!)
TCC: Your favorite tool?
OD: Tongs! No not that one! Chefs don’t even wear anything.
TCC: What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not cooking.
OD: Travelling. Sharing good time with a handful of friends in kitchen.
TCC: What would you like to do before you get too old to do it?
OD: Keep doing what I do now until I drop dead! (113)
TCC: Tell us a deep dark secret (doesn’t have to be food related).
OD: I do not take my job seriously! So I have a life!
TCC: How do you deal with the stress?
OD: Love it! Can’t live without it! I know how to deal with it! I feel like I accomplished something every time I handled stressful situation. I always learnt the hard way. I never finished high school and I love have discovered everything by myself. That was and is a lot of stress. Test me?
TCC: Who would you like to meet?
OD: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Charlie Chaplin and Leonardo Da Vinci
TCC: Who would you like to cook for?
OD: For my wife, my mother and a few friends, not a lot! And for my customers of course
TCC: What was the hardest thing for you to learn? Or is there something you just can’t get right?
OD: Nothing is hard. If you want to learn, you do. If can’t do it well too bad! If you want you can period.
TCC: Is there some little something you do for your family to make up for the time you’re not with them?
OD: My new resolution since the passing of my brother… I am here for my family and my good friends!
TCC: How did becoming a chef change your life? Your direction.
OD: That’s the only life I know, except I became an entrepreneur as well, by running 3 places with absolutely no partners. My direction is probably to sell the 3 places and open one more! One that I really want, not repeating the millions mistakes I did for the past 40 years. Live and learn. I will do this in the next 5 years.
Olivier is the chef/owner of Zinc Restaurant in Philadelphia. Several years ago he worked at a restaurant that was...