Photo provided by Le Pigeon

Being Bad at Math Helped Launch My Award-Winning Culinary Career

Gabriel Rucker

I think it is important to stay true to yourself when cooking, but always remember what got you to where you are now. For me, it wasn’t math.

Photo provided by Le Pigeon

Photo provided by Le Pigeon

Carrot-butter poached halibut. Photos courtesy of Le Pigeon.

If you want to explore cooking as a career, don't spend shitloads of money on culinary school. Do it at a junior college or somewhere you can start right out of high school.

Cooking for a living is more about your attitude and your work ethic than knowing the five Mother sauces or how to make a terrine.

That's what worked for me, at least. I got into cooking because I sucked at math and dropped out of community college. I went to go speak with my counselor and straight-up told him "I don't think math is for me." His response: "you should look into a vocational program," and I literally pointed at culinary arts, right there in front of him. I took that class for a year and food made sense to me in a way that numbers never did.

I also realized after I opened up my second restaurant that it is not all about opening up as many restaurants as you can. I like to actually cook at my two establishments, but two is already too hard because I can only be in one place at a time. I just feel like there is a lot of potential left to do better at what you already have, so why add another? A lot of people put their hopes of winning a James Beard Award as the main priority in life, but then, all of a sudden, you realize that you've missed out on a lot of stuff because of it.

I'm lucky that I got my award early when I was young and now I'm just doing my two restaurants as good as we can—doing them right. I'm actually trying to do less events, less dinners there, and focus more on cooking on the line. That's what makes me happy.

RECIPE: Carrot Butter–Poached Halibut with Anchovy-Roasted Carrots and Fennel

I think if you're trying to improve your cooking, simplify everything. Always try to get a little bit less on the plate—subtract one or two components at least. I try to slow myself down before I get too far ahead.

In the end, I think it's important to be humble, put your head down, work hard, look left, and look right—that's how you really learn. Watch what other people are doing and then ask questions. I got pretty lucky. I've been in the right place at the right time for my career to take off in the way it did. There's plenty of cooks that cook food just as good as I do and work just as hard as I do, but a lot of success in life is dependent on luck. I feel like I've been blessed and I'll never forget that, so I keep working hard.

I think it is important to stay true to yourself when cooking. It is also important to progress and move forward, but always remember what got you to where you are now. For me, it's wasn't math.

As told to Javier Cabral