I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Ali at an event he catered for a good friend of mine. And since then, my friends and I have continued to use him for private events. When celebrating any of life wonderful moments, you don’t always want the hassle of going to a restaurant with a party of about 8-10, having to possibly put down a security deposit and be restricted to a limited menu. This is when you see the convenience in hiring a private chef that can cater to you, your friends and family. It gets a little difficult at times to be near the kitchen while he cooks because the food smells so great and you’re just ready to eat but he always makes it worth the wait. LOL!
Meet this week’s “Man on the Move,” Chef Ali.
Q: How did your career begin as a chef?
A: Right out of high school, I worked at The Cheesecake Factory as a busboy. But I didn’t like it. I wasn’t use to a hostile work environment where managers are yelling and using profanity at their employees. I worked for two days and quit. It wasn’t something I was willing to tolerate, especially not at 18.
After that experience, I found myself working a dead-end job and I eventually got myself fired. I didn’t want to work another dead-end job and I had to figure something out. A friend of mine told me she was going to culinary school and since I already enjoyed cooking, I thought the idea of going to culinary school was fitting. Two months into the program, I started working at TGI Fridays for about a year, which was a great experience and that’s how it all got started.
Q: That’s interesting that you decided to go back working in restaurants, considering your dislike for working at The Cheesecake Factory.
A: Back when I was 18, I was only doing it for the money. Once I decided to do the culinary program, I felt that had I matured and I went in with a fresh mind to not allow my past experience to stop me from moving forward in my new career. At TGI Fridays, I didn’t start off straight in the kitchen. The manager wanted to see how serious I was about being a chef, so he started me off as a host and I had to work my way up. It was a great experience because not only was I able to prove to myself how serious I was about becoming a chef but it also taught me a lot about the restaurant business as a whole.
Q: How did you transition from working in restaurants to working independently?
A: I left TGI Fridays to work at Applebee’s for an Assistant Manager position. I was trained for the position but the manager kept giving me the run around when it came to placing me in the position I was initially hired for. After 10 months of working there, I found out they got rid of the Assistant Manager position 2 months after I got hired. They never had the intention of putting me in that position. And since my heart was set on becoming a manager, I looked for restaurants that had a management program. As I briefly worked at Chili’s, I was getting hired for private events and my focus shifted on the management program to working independently. I applied for a job at the University of Miami (UM) and I got hired as an independent contractor. From there, I stopped working at restaurants and began working independently full-time.
Q: What has been a defining moment in your career?
A: Right out of culinary school, I got the experience of a lifetime. I got accepted into an internship program working with Chef Richard Ingraham Jr, who is Dwayne Wade’s personal chef, amongst many other professional athletes. It was during that time that I got a real taste of the private world and experiencing a true passion for food on a whole other level. From then on, I no longer gravitated towards the management program. My internship started in August 2012 and I still work for him today, where he hired me as an independent contractor.
Q: What inspires you to keep moving forward?
A: The fact there is a lot of opportunity out there. I’ve been cooking for 3 1/2 years and have been doing this professionally for 1 1/2. People always ask me how did I get the internship with Chef Ingraham and it all started from twitter. After I’ve done a few private events on my own, I started looking up private chef’s and celebrity chef’s to see how they got started. I was reaching out to a lot of different chef’s on twitter and tagging them in pictures showing my work. And then came that fateful day when Chef Ingraham responded to one of my post that I tagged him in, saying to keep up the good work. His business partner email address was listed on his bio page so I emailed her and that’s how I found out about the internship program. I later called her and got a phone interview on the spot. Two weeks later, I had an in-person interview with both of them. He later booked me for a charity event held for the Obama Campaign and the rest is history. I could have chosen to be content solely being an independent contractor for a celebrity chef, but I chose to keep looking for my next opportunity. And that’s how I got the UM position. Things can really happen if you go out for it. I have a “why not” philosophy. I am not afraid to fail and move on to the next thing.
Q: When did you realize you made the right career choice?
A: To be honest, it wasn’t until towards the end of my school career. I actually almost quit school within the first few months. I was living on my own, going to school full-time and working a part-time job. I just didn’t know how it was all going to come together and work in my best interest. It wasn’t until the internship that I seen the potential of where this could all really go. Everything started coming together. The internship started it all off and the UM position capped it off!
Q: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
A: I see myself much further in my culinary profession. One of my goals right now is to start a YouTube series, like a cooking show. I want to show people of all ages how to make quick meals. Hopefully the YouTube series will lead to a network show and I’m open to where ever else it may take me.
Q: What do you believe separates you from other chefs?
A: My personality. Most chefs are very serious, especially coming from a restaurant working environment, a chef has to work in a fast-paced environment and doesn’t have time to be personable. They pretty much just have to get the job done and move on to the next task. Working in the private world is different. I want to come off easy, light-hearted and just make my clients feel comfortable. Sometimes I get booked for an event working in someone’s home and I have to build a trusting and comfortable relationship to be in someone’s home like that. That’s very personal. I get that from working as a host in the past, because I had to be very hospitable in that position. Starting from the bottom worked in my favor because being in the kitchen is stressful but when you are dealing with people, you have to be hospitable.
Q: For someone looking to start their career as a chef, what advice would you give?
A: Get into the field early for hands-on experience. I have some friends who waited until the end of their program to get into the restaurant and they ended up hating it and are no longer in the field. Get your feet wet first so you can experience which part of the culinary field you wish to be in.
Note: For bookings, email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can keep up with Chef Ali on IG & Twitter: chefboyali305