Remember to have fun! Without good laughs and fun in a kitchen, it can become quite insular. Have fun with food, do not take it too seriously, and laugh along the way.
Aspart of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jared Dowling.
Born in London, England, Jared Dowling grew up with a love of fine art and illustration. While he obtained his degree from Chelsea School of Art & Design, he found that his love of art was overrun by the wild world of kitchens and cuisine. He began his culinary career on the line for numerous chefs across London, followed by several stages throughout Europe. Eventually Dowling moved to New York where he took an Executive Chef position at The Fat Radish, the acclaimed British farm-to-table restaurant in the Lower East Side. During his time at The Fat Radish, he was also the head of a high-end catering production company for Silkstone Hospitality. Dowling then moved on to develop unique dining experiences and concepts for Habitas Hotels in New York City, Tulum, and Namibia. As New Yorkers tend to do, he decided to change coasts, and headed to Southern California. Now in Los Angeles, he joined the North Venice Boardwalk team to oversee their culinary projects. He currently runs the kitchen at The Waterfront in Venice Beach, producing a laid-back seasonal Californian BBQ menu. His newest project is Winston House, under the same hospitality group’s umbrella, where he is designing the tapas bar-style menu.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?
Istarted in kitchens fairly young, and all I wanted to do was get out of the dish pit. I was useless and had a very short attention span. I would watch the older guys cook on the line and the buzz / energy / banter between everyone whilst also churning out beautiful dishes seemed thrilling to me. Eventually I pestered the chef long enough for him to start training me in the kitchen. Growing up, I was always interested in art, so this was a perfect outlet for me to be creative. It also let me see a future in an another industry if being a professional painter failed (which it did very rapidly).
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
I worked in a kitchen with Chef Junya Yamasaki for a long time in London. I got burnt out and bored of cooking high end French fusion style food and was looking for something more adventurous. Friends of mine had told me about this udon noodle restaurant in the heart of Soho and I went in for a trial. The smells and ingredients (that I was unfamiliar with) were fascinating. Also, I really appreciated their meaningful and thoughtful approach to using produce in its simplest form. It was so different from all the fuss of overly composed plates I was used to creating. I think this raw vision of what food could be drew me into rustic farm to table food. I liked the homely and almost nostalgic feeling of cooking but with the knowledge and sustainably conscious intention. This is the style of food I like to focus on as much as possible.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
I was working at the Fat Radish as the executive chef while also running a catering company out of the small Chinatown kitchen called Silkstone. I won’t point fingers, but someone definitely over booked events the week after fashion week! The restaurant was churning out large covers and some A-list parties. On top of that, we had two 350 people sit down catering dinner events. This was a daunting challenge and a lot of pressure to not only pull it off but to also execute at a high level. Luckily, I had an amazing kitchen team and a best friend who was my sous chef at the time. Georgina and I would run the restaurant kitchen through busy services and prep these events on the side. We knew this was going to be a ridiculous number of working hours and that we would be going from 7:30am to the early hours of the morning. One day, while slightly losing our minds and perhaps a bit intoxicated, we had to cook and peel 350lbs of beets. We found ourselves singing to them, seeking therapy from them while also completely losing it. But at least we were losing it together! We completed the task and filled up buckets with the beets. We had to lug them up the stairs to get them into the refrigerator door truck outside. While carrying the bucket, the handle snaps off, taking both the 350lbs of beets and me tumbling down the stairs. I was laying there cracking up about the fact that we had lost two hours of work thanks to this. I was covered in smashed beets and juice and it really looked like a horror show. This was at 2am, and cleanup took another hour. We could not stop laughing. What I took away from this is if you have a crazy amount of work to get done, it makes it so much easier when you do it with friends who you can laugh with, no matter what happens. Together, we pushed through the week. It was one of the hardest weeks I have had professionally yet the sense of accomplishment was incredible.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
I think for me it was, and has always been, balance in my life. Work/home/play and what to prioritize, when. I discovered early on that once I committed myself to something, I found it very hard to pull away and take time for myself or my loved ones. It took a lot of major life lessons to learn to take time for myself and the people I love and it is still something I am working on today. You must remember that they are just hurdles and you need to keep hopping over them!!
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
For me, it is taking something familiar to people from its roots and then putting a flare or twist to it which allows the guest to feel like they are adventuring with their food experience. You want a balance of flavors and concepts that meet in the middle to hopefully pop!
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
Being English and it being part of our weekly routine, it has to be a good Sunday roast dinner with all the trimmings on a cold day with family and friends. To me, dinner is about everything. From the cut of beef or leg of lamb that you decided to roast and nurture all day, the smell and the aromas filling the house, to the company and setting. Ambience is everything for me and it heightens the joy of a good meal regardless of what you are eating.
That being said, I wouldn’t pass up a meal at La Spolada in Patagonia with Francis Mallmann! That is a true immersive experience that I would love to be a part of one day.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
I find inspiration from many places to be honest, from chatting with my mum, walking my dog and getting inside my head, to scanning through cookbooks I have collected over the years. I have found being close to the ocean has allowed me to find peace. Sitting out there staring at the horizon and clearing my mind (sounds cheesy and probably is) helps me find clarity in the way I want to create.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
I’m working on a couple of projects: I just relaunched The Waterfront Venice which has been amazing and so much fun. To play the line of Californian Backyard Farm to table food with a splash of Boardwalk eccentricity and coastal feel. I am also working on a really cool project called Winston House, which will be a music venue/ bar restaurant in the heart of Venice. Venice has always been an awesome food hub and I want Winston House to feel a little like a house. If Wes Anderson and Willy Wonka had a baby and it became a chef — that is the vision! This project will have a massive impact on the LA musical community, as it will be nurturing and will highlight new up and coming artists and songwriters.
What advice would you give to other chefs or restauranteurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
Drink responsibly and take time for yourself. Sit down and eat a meal. Remember to teach and care for others, from the dishwasher to the GM, because they will help you as much as you help them. Sharing is caring. If you feel like you are going to burn out, tell someone. Otherwise how can you thrive? Also, drink some water.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Be prepared to miss a lot in your journey to be a chef. I do not think I realized how involved and obsessed I would become in reaching the goals I wanted. And I missed a lot of important events in life in the pursuit of my own journey, which I wish I could take back in some cases.
- Learn to be organized while you are young, because it becomes harder and harder as the years move on to learn.
- Learn to speak Spanish! Especially moving from London to America, having Spanish under my belt would have been extremely helpful at the beginning of my career in New York.
- Keep your cool. No one likes an angry chef, and it is particularly challenging to learn from one.
- Remember to have fun! Without good laughs and fun in a kitchen, it can become quite insular. Have fun with food, do not take it too seriously, and laugh along the way.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
DONUTS! I have become quite obsessed and packing on the pounds because of overindulging.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
For me, it is always important to be as sustainable and local as possible. This was something that was drilled into me as a young chef back in England and I have taken this ethos with me everywhere I go. Support small independent farms, fisheries, and ranches instead of large corporations, especially within the meat and fishing industries which are already so corrupt.
Go to the source. Go natural. Be responsible with what you consume and how much you consume.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!