Featured Culinary Student: Briana Ray

TTP Mentors: Michael Taus and Bill Kim
Current Restaurant(s): Belly Q, Belly Shack, and Urban Bell

What made you decide to pursue the culinary arts? 

When I was growing up in Detroit, I was always around my mom cooking and the ingredients in the kitchen.  I never thought I’d pursue it, but eventually I just came to the realization that it was my passion.  I probably realized it senior year of high school when I started applying for school.  I looked at four-year colleges, but started to see the reality of where that would lead me and the potential for sitting in an office my whole life, and nothing else seemed as exciting as cooking. 

What does the Charlie Trotter legacy mean to you? 

He had the passion not only to pursue his career and what he loves, but to help those with the same passion.  He saw the younger generation as the future and how important it was to nurture them to create a strong, new wave of chefs coming in.  He’s one of the chefs who pushed on younger people and his staff to pursue his passion as much as he did.  And he lived a life of giving back, which is the greatest thing. 

What do you like most about cooking?
You can take any ingredient and do so many different things with the same ingredient.  Plus, you can feed it to other people who like it, it makes them happy, and they want to keep trying your food.  To me, work never feels like work.  It’s a learning experience that doesn’t ever end.  That’s what I like most about it.

What was the day-to-day like working with Chefs Bill Kim and Michael Taus? How could you see the Trotter legacy passed on? 

Every day I wanted to make Chef happy and grow personally – to be bigger, stronger today and different than yesterday.  They wanted to see me grow and to be as good as they are.  They’d talk about their time with Chef Trotter, the importance of timeliness and cleanliness, the versatility you need to have to work on different stations, and the awareness of what needs to be done and know how to do it.  Above all, you can’t worry about your life and must separate yourself from distractions to get the job done.

How have Chefs Kim and Taus influenced your career?

I had little to no experience coming in to the industry because I was so young.  Now I’m able to look back and see how I’ve grown.  I’m stronger both professionally and personally and can see how I’ve taken the lessons I’ve learned from the kitchen into my everyday life. 

What were the biggest lessons you’ve learned? 

I feel like I learned lessons every day.  The biggest lesson is to stay strong and refuse to fail.  Service can get tough, and you can break down at any moment, but you can’t let it.  Through it all, you have to strive to go beyond the standards, and always show your passion and that you can do it.

What are your dreams for your career? 

I want to become a chef, and open up own restaurant and manage it.  I might do some other things in the industry, like be a personal chef, write cookbooks, be a restaurateur, or start working in hotels.  I’ve worked at the front of the house and liked it because you can see happy customers, so I might do that again.  I think it’s important to know all the aspects of the restaurant to make it successful.  

Right now, I’m one step away from being a sous chef for Bill Kim.  He has young cooks, and it’s an inspiration to people in my place who are young.  We’re able to work with people who put their all into something and have proven they can make it.  I want to keep growing every day and give back when I’m able, especially to younger kids in similar situations as me who need opportunities. 

What’s your favorite dish to make?

I’m really into Asian cuisine right now because of working at Chef Kim’s restaurants.  Even when I’m outside of work, I’m always looking for Asian ingredients at the grocery store.  Although my all-time favorite is steak and potatoes – and pastas.  They’re my favorites because you can vary meat and pasta so much, so it allows you to be creative and experimental.