Q: What’s it like being an executive sous chef at a high-end Strip restaurant?
A: It’s intense, sometimes crazy, but always rewarding. My day starts at around 9 a.m. — with my phone. The first thing I do is look at my email, do a quick scroll for any red flags — to make sure there’s no product getting shorted for that evening. Once I get into the restaurant at around 11 a.m., I’m there all night — cutting fish, meat and, if need be, doing some cooking. But I also make a lot of phone calls and do a lot of paperwork. As executive sous chef, I handle the food costs, the labor costs, I make sure we’re ordering the proper things, I meet with purveyors and do all the pricing. (Our sous chefs also help doing a lot of that footwork.) When two parties make dinner reservations and they all want lobster, my sous chefs and I are the ones who make sure we have the lobsters that evening. If there’s time during the day, I’ll collaborate with the executive chef on any new dishes we’re working on.
What do I love most about my job? The adrenaline. The fast pace. It’s certainly not a cubicle job, and I’m thankfully not a punch-a-time-card kind of guy. Plus, I get to eat out pretty much every day. It’s called research — it’s a write-off as well (business development and education)! There are other perks. Like when I walk into a restaurant and happen to know the chef, it could turn into a great time. What chef doesn’t want to show another chef a good time? They know how much their food will be appreciated on a chef-to-chef level. It might turn into a three-hour dinner with lots of food and great wine. (The discounted check never hurts, either! Ha ha.)
But this job is tough on you. Chefs tend to have unhealthy diets and lifestyles. Why? Because we work so hard and don’t eat the right stuff. If you took a look in my fridge at home, you’d see cereal, milk and some vitamins. The job can also be hard on the body; I’m on my feet all day. It can be hard on the family, too. One of the first things my daughter said to me was, “Daddy works, daddy works.” It’s no surprise that chefs have a high divorce rate but, luckily, I’m with a wonderful woman whose father was a chef and she “gets it.” But you do give up a lot in life. You give up Christmases, most holidays, special occasions, family functions. When I get two days off — and thank God for that, some chefs don’t even get that — the first day is always spent sleeping in.
Ricardo Romo is executive sous chef at STK in The Cosmopolitan.