What have you been up to since graduation?
Well during my last year at school I worked at Outdated Cafe in Kingston one day per week. I started there doing prep work - chopping vegetables, etc. After graduation, I jumped right into working full-time as a dishwasher at Outdated, which I did for about six months, before moving on to being a prep cook for 8 months and then finally I was a head cook for the rest of my time there. The experience showed me that I did really want to be a cook, although I wanted to work somewhere I could prepare food that was a little nicer, and I wanted to learn about meat (and Outdated is a vegetarian cafe). I wanted broader knowledge of food, so one day I went across the street to the world-class butchery there, Fleishers, and asked the manager Bryan, “what’s the best way to learn how to butcher?” and he said, “Do you want a job?” I knew immediately that I would quit my job at Outdated and start up at Fleishers. I worked there for 9 months, and I learned more than I even knew existed, from working with the meat to learning about the animals themselves, what it means for animals to be healthy and happy, what the exact opposite means, and the difference in the quality of the meat. Occasionally, we would get our meat in “primals” which are essentially quarters of animals to butcher, 150 lb pieces of meat that we would take down, or more often Fleishers main butchery in Red Hook, Brooklyn, would send us “sub-primals,” which is essentially each muscle, where you might have the shoulder clod which is the ranch steak, or the London Broil, and we would break that down into steaks.
Before I even started working at Fleishers, I had bought a plane ticket to Norway, because I have Norwiegan blood and I wanted to go explore the country. So really right after I started at Fleishers I took the trip, and while I was in Oslo I bought a plane ticket to Copenhagen on a whim, and went for one night and ate at a restaurant called Ante. I met the cook and he asked me to come stag (apprentice) with him. So I planned to go back after getting more experience at Fleishers. When I did, this cook was at a new restaurant called Bror, and I started an apprenticeship there - the two head chefs had both been sue-chefs at Noma, which was the number one restaurant in the world for three consecutive years, so there was a lot to learn from them. The biggest benefit for my career of the whole experience was networking - I have a job opportunity coming up at a restaurant in NYC which is a two Michelin star place called Momofuku ko, which is huge, and the opportunity opened up to me through connections I made in Copenhagen. I’m glad I’m taking this route rather than say going to the Culinary Institute of America, because knowing the people I do seems way more valuable than a degree, which is really expensive anyway. Also, right now Noma now has a pop-up restaurant in Tulum, Mexico, which I’m going to visit at end of month.
What is your ambition?
In some ways it’s too early - I do have a fantasy of owning a restaurant but I know it’s really too early to clearly perceive what my ultimate goal should be - I’m still a beginner, so I’m still exploring.
What was your time at HVSS like?
I was four when the school was founded and spent a lot of time here that year, and then continued through until I graduated when I was 16, so I was here for around 11 or 12 years. I spent maybe all my time as a younger student playing. Later I had some more focused interests - I made movies for a while, and then got into photography and graphic design, I still do some 3-D art, not as much as I might like to do. And close to the end of my time at school I started to get interested in cooking.
Did you ever study any academics at school?
Are there any moments when you feel like your lack of academic training betrays you?
Uh...not really. Although when I was in Copenhagen I was in a bar and doing a trivia competition, and I didn’t know some history facts, but it’s not as though that made me feel like my life was falling apart or anything, and actually my teammates (who had been through traditional school) didn’t either.
How did you learn how to read and write?
I don’t know, I think it just kind of happened. When my brother was four he somehow started reading books, and I saw that, and figured I wanted to read books too. I’m sure my parents helped me, I don’t have much memory of it. For writing, it was more self-taught, mostly at school because that’s where I spent most of my time. I don’t remember specifically how it happened - I think it was gradual, you have to write, it’s a necessity, so you figure it out.
Do you feel like you gained any skills at school that are serving you right now?
Definitely yes, although it’s always hard to know what’s happening because of having gone to HVSS or just because of who I am but if I had to guess what I got here, it’s being able to adapt to different situations quickly, socialize, not have a fear of talking to older people, and also not to have a fear or disdain of younger people trying to do amazing things. Some people I’ve met in the restaurant industry do sort of look down on younger people in the industry and maybe distrust them, but I’m open to working with younger people and supporting them to get involved with things and succeed.
Note: Good news! Since we did this interview with Colin, he has been hired by Momofuku Ko and moved to NYC.