Chef Garen Minton
Written By Rochelle Eisenberg
Photographed By David Stuck
It’s hard to believe that Garen Minton is only 22 years old. After all, this young man, who recently entered the culinary world, already has developed an impressive resume, having worked for one of the hottest chefs in the country.
That chef is Bryan Voltaggio of Volt Restaurant in Frederick, Md. You know, the Chef who was runner-up in season six of Bravo’s “Top Chef.”
It’s an auspicious beginning for Minton, who grew up in Damascus, Md. He attended Yeshivat Rambam and spent many high school weekends in Baltimore through his connections with Rabbi David Finkelstein with Shoresh.
Minton, who hopes someday to own his own string of upscale restaurants, began his culinary career as a server at Catering by Yaffa. He also worked in the caterer’s kitchen doing basic prep work. Today, he is in Washington, D.C. as a junior sous chef for an upscale restaurant off DuPont Circle.
Did you enjoy cooking growing up?
I absolutely did. Growing up, my mom always cooked dinner at home. I always had to be home for dinner. At the same time, my family got together for Shabbos dinner and holidays. I grew up around cooking … that it brought people together.
Where did you first learn to cook?
As I got older, I helped my Mom out in the kitchen. My Mom taught me the core about cooking, like how to know if a piece of meat was done. If it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t have gone into this career.
But I never really appreciated cooking until I got my own place and moved out. Having people over, I gained a new appreciation for food and ingredients.
What are your specialties?
My family is Moroccan Israeli. I grew up with this cuisine. I love to cook Mediterranean flavors.
What’s it like to work with Bryan Voltaggio?
It was definitely an experience. He’s a tough but very experienced chef, and he demands nothing but performance from both his dishes and his employees. I learned more during the time I spent there than the two to three years I worked anywhere else. But it was time to move on.
I’m working in DC at a restaurant near DuPont Circle. It serves Southern American food with a French influence. It’s a different world and different cuisine from Volt but has the same level of production.
What don’t people realize about being a chef?
A lot of people don’t realize that it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. I’m in the kitchen 60 plus hours a week and even when I’m not there, I’m thinking about how I can perfect this dish or how to set my station up to be more efficient.
It’s even changed my perspective on life. When I clean my house … it has no connection to food but I demand perfection from myself.
To open my own restaurant before I’m 30 and expand the restaurant across the country. I don’t see it as a chain. It would be a fine dining restaurant that melds modern American cuisine with molecular gastronomy.
When I have funding, I also hope to open up a quality kosher restaurant. I hate to say it but I know a lot of people agree that they’re hard to fing unless you are in New York, Miami, L.A..
In the kitchen, what can’t you live without?
In the ’fridge I can’t live without butter and basic mirepoix [carrots, celery and onions]. Spices [I must have] are salt and cayenne pepper. Every pantry should have a nice bottle of olive oil.
Advice for the home cook?
I don’t know how to say this without sounding too cliché, but put your heart and soul into the food. Cook from your heart and soul. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t look pretty, it’s about bringing people together.