At a young age my family opened me to a wide variety of foods. Whether it was orange roughy or gar couvillion, we were exposed to exotic foods early on. Food was special for us. I remember when my father and I would make omelettes. It was the first time that my father and I truly bonded.
At the age of 23, I signed up for culinary school at Louisiana Culinary Institute in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I was in between careers and was tired of bouncing from job to job. I always knew that I wanted to be a chef, but I just didn’t know how to turn that into a profitable career.
Being in culinary school was definitely challenging. One of the requirements, when I was in school, was that you needed 300 externship hours to graduate. With that, homework, and other bills, it made it hard to have a life.
However, culinary school was great overall. I met a lot of good people.
At the end of my first semester, I went to a school sponsored event called Gourmet in the Garden. I was paired with Bistro Byronz under Jon Lundin. I helped make their iconic dish, cornmeal waffles with frog legs and pepper jelly. I was in charge of frying up the frog legs. What I didn’t know was that I was doing my first stage, an unpaid internship test, and had aced it! That was how I earned my first line cook position.
The pay off
The service industry is definitely something that you have to be patient for the pay off. Trying to pay bills on 10 dollars an hour isn’t fun. For me, I believe being selected for an executive chef position at the age of 26 was my greatest achievement and a great pay off. It was confirmation that I was on the right path.
Another accomplishment was when I was a lead cook at 18Steak at L’Auberge Casino in Baton Rouge, LA, and there was a wine dinner that I invited my parents to. They had never eaten at any of the restaurants I had worked at before so this was a big deal for me. I had a hand in planning and producing the menu. I even made an amuse-bouche to make their experience even more special. When I went outside to ask how their meal was, my father stood up and gave me a hug. He then told me that he was so proud of me. It was all I needed to hear.
What Derek is cooking up now
Currently I am in the menu testing process with a fusion concept known as Meraki.
Meraki is a Greek word meaning from the soul or done with creativity. My wife, Nia, and I love studying world cultures. We also believe that food is the link between all cultures. Meraki celebrates this fact.
I love fusion cuisine. Taking two concepts that are completely different and meshing them together. No greater feeling for me.
I also at the moment motivate and mentor others to realize their own potential. I have been described as a big brother or even a father figure to some. I try to give talks at high schools and my alma mater when my schedule allows me. In my talks, I often tell students to stay humble and patient. This career is a long term investment and the payout is worth it.
What the future holds for Derek
I want to continue to develop my leadership skills so that I can run a chain of food trucks. From a business point of view, it is like owning a restaurant with half of the financial responsibility. The flow of business is entirely in my court, and I love that. I want to keep the fusion concept alive so two items that would most likely be on the menu would be Aleppo pepper fried rice with palm oil and doro wat tacos with teff tortillas
The advice I would give someone looking to be in the food industry is to be a sponge and learn from reliable people around you. Definitely be strong and most of all be patient. Dreams take time to be realized.
For more photos and information about me and my style follow me on Instagram @meraki_fusion.