What was the defining moment or situation in your life that led you to become a chef?
Andre: The Chef at Leon de Lyon was Louis Balthazar. He was really a nice man and very talented. We would do everything from scratch; we didn’t have all of the products we have today or the equipment. The only machine we had was a Hobart mixer—that was it.
Every day you would go to the market at 5 a.m. to buy all your fresh fish, meat, poultry and vegetables. Many times I had to go with Monsieur Lacombe and had to carry all the groceries to the car. Every day the other apprentice and I had to clean all the fish and vegetables that were in season. I hated the fall when we received all the wild game including venison, wild boar and cases of little birds that we had to pluck and clean. That was a nightmare.
Every Saturday the kitchen was taken apart and cleaned from top to bottom—all the stoves, the cooler—I mean everything. On the stove, we had to use sand paper for the bar in the front of the stove. The bar had to be marked in a certain way with the same space in between. Oh yeah, it was a lot of fun.
We knew that we were on our way to becoming cooks and then some day chefs. Being a chef was, and still is, a highly respected title in our profession. You would never even think of calling yourself chef when you were an apprentice.
What adversities have you overcome in your life/career?
Andre: I think I am my biggest problem. I like to be on the edge all the time; I can’t stand it when it’s too easy. I always try to reach higher. Sometimes I come to a situation, and I know the right decision to make, but I’m not going to do it, because I refuse to be beaten. As long as I still think there is a way to do it, I am going to push until I succeed or have to, against my will, admit that I was wrong. So I get in trouble once in a while, but it makes life interesting. Also, it got me where I am today.
It is almost a two-edge sword: stubbornness can be one of your biggest challenges, but it can propel you on.
Andre: Yeah, Yeah.
Yesterday, I talked to one of the kids that used to work for me—really a good kid. When he worked for me I worked him real hard. Now he has his own business in St. Thomas, in fact there was a big article on him not too long ago. He was one of the few that believed in himself. The harder I made it on him, the harder he worked with determination and the will to succeed. When he called me and said, “Andre, I am where I am today thanks to you.” That made me proud, but I didn’t do it for him. He did it because he wanted it bad enough.
You got to believe in yourself and what you do, and don’t ever let anybody tell you that it’s not possible. The world is yours, and it is up to you to make it or not. You are the only one to thank for your success and happiness—or to blame for your failures and misery.
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