By Chris Gentile
As soon as I was tall enough to reach the stove, I knew I wanted to be a chef. It was a passion that was first sparked in me as a child while cooking with my dad for the holidays. Coming from an Italian family, it was a tradition for us to make ravioli by hand for Christmas Eve, and it was an activity I looked forward to every year. Little did I know it would be something that would consume my every day.
My passion turned into a career when I was 14 years old and I landed a job as a busboy at a local beach pub called Mulligans in Vero Beach, FL. I wanted to work in the kitchen but, because of my young age, I was only allowed to bus tables. However, one day when it was extremely busy, the kitchen needed someone to work the fryer. Finally my chance had come, and when I had my first taste, I was hooked. Although it was the small and mundane task of dropping fries into the oil until golden brown and perfect, I truly knew the life of a chef was the life for me.
After working at several small places and chain restaurants around town in Asheville, NC, my real chance at the big leagues came when I got an offer to join the team at the Inn on the Biltmore Estate when I was 17. This is the only Five Star, Five Diamond resort and restaurant in the state of North Carolina. Here I learned the basics and dedication needed to make me the chef I am today. I moved up the rankings quickly, absorbing as much information as I could, and after working for the Biltmore for two years, I was promoted to sous chef; I was the youngest chef to ever work at the esteemed restaurant.
After traveling around the country and working under several well-known chefs such as Sean Brock, Grant Achatz and Thomas Keller, I decided to move to San Diego. Not only did San Diego have perfect weather, but I also saw it as a very up-and-coming culinary city. Here, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to impressive gastronomic players who mentored me and taught me unique lessons about being a chef. The first restaurant I worked for in San Diego was Brian Malarkey’s Searsucker. After only a month of cooking the line, I was promoted to sous chef. Brian showed me how to be connected to an audience and establish yourself as a chef through your food and personality. When I was 20 years old, Brian promoted me to executive chef of his restaurant Gabardine. It was a place that not only enhanced my culinary skills, but gave me the opportunity to learn the business side of the culinary world.
From there, I worked under Johnny Batista at Kitchen 1540. He really sparked my creativity, and under him I was taught to think about food and presentation in an extraordinarily different way. Finally, before I started with the Double Standard team, I worked under a chef of the year, Jason Knibb, of Nine-Ten restaurant in La Jolla. A whole new world of flavors was unveiled to me there through techniques from the Nordic world. I have brought all of this knowledge and experience with me as executive chef of Double Standard.
About my age of 24…sometimes it’s crazy to think that a lot of people my age are worried about going out on Friday night, when I am worried about making the schedule, controlling food and labor costs, and running the line during a 300-cover evening. But in the end, I believe that it isn’t the age that determines the person, it’s the miles walked during their lifetime. I’ve been fortunate to walk a thousand miles under amazing chefs at incredible establishments, and I am thankful for those experiences that have led me to Double Standard.
What keeps me going is my increasing passion for creating innovative dishes. It’s what keeps me coming to work every day, and on my days off it’s all I think about. I don’t feel like I am working when I am at Double Standard because I’d always rather be cooking and creating more than anything else. With my passion and goals in mind, each day at Double Standard becomes a day of endless possibilities and I am excited to see what the future has in store.
Chris Gentile is the executive chef at Double Standard Kitchenetta & Bar in the Gaslamp. At 24, he is the youngest executive chef in downtown San Diego. He has cooked at Alinea in Chicago, McCrady’s in Charleston, and Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York City.
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