My Grandmother Was My Culinary Inspiration - Sven Garrett

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1. Tell us about your background and journey. 

I was born and raised in Germany. I grew up in a small town in a middle-class family. My mom was a nurse and my dad worked as a welder. Both of my parents worked so I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, who was always cooking or baking something. She was definitely my culinary inspiration. 

As a child, I always wanted to get away and travel and I remember telling my friends in Kindergarten that I would leave Germany as an adult and live by the beach. Of course, I had no idea what I would do. Then I saw a TV show about Miami and I knew that was my place to be. 

I started culinary college in Hannover/Germany right after high school for 5 years. Once I graduated I went to the military for a year where I actually worked as a chef. It was not a culinary highlight, but I probably had the best time I ever had in a kitchen since. J 

After the military, I went back to Hannover and worked in a Michelin Star Hotel/Restaurant for 1½ years before transferring to Munich, where I worked at a 5-Start Hotel. 

During that time I joined a culinary organization, which worked as an agent for foreign chef jobs. After 6 months I got selected to work as a chef in a Country Club in West Palm Beach, Florida in an 18-months culinary program. I accepted the offer and moved to Florida. 

I moved through all of the different stations in the kitchen and ended up in the pastry department and I became the assistant pastry chef for a year. 

Once the program ended I stayed in Florida and moved to …guess! MIAMI! J 

I became the executive pastry chef at the Delano Hotel in South Beach for two years. And that’s where it all started ;) 

2. What led you to take up this career path? 

My grandmother. She definitely was my culinary inspiration. We had a huge garden all around the house and she would always be outside and either plant something or harvest. Then she would be in the house and using these fresh ingredients to cook every day. 

She would sit in the corner of the kitchen with this hugs bowl on her lap and mix cake ingredients with a kitchen spoon for hours. One day she gave me an egg, sugar, flour, milk, and some baking powder and I mixed everything together. 

I remember sitting outside the oven window and watching the “cake” rise from inside the baking tin. I was mesmerized and hooked! 

3. What does your typical day look like? 

I work as an executive chef at USC in Los Angeles. We are in charge of about 300 students in a private school. My work there includes daily meetings with the food committee and my staff, planning menus, budgeting, and inventory, overseeing the daily prep as well as the execution of the meals. 

I also work as a private event chef on the weekends and I am constantly putting together menus for different clients. The prep for those events I do in my house kitchen, then I cook and oversee the events at my client’s. 

4. Does one's approach change when cooking professionally and at home? 

Well, as a private chef I cook professionally at someone’s house. My clientele is used to high-end service so the pressure is pretty high. But I know the question is referring to cooking at home with family. Personally, once I leave work I am technically off work and I don’t feel like cooking any more at home. But we all need to eat, right? So usually I end up cooking for my friends and family, because, well I’m a chef, haha. My dad used to be a chef before I was born and he is a tough critic. But seeing a smile on my mom’s face and an encouraging nod from my dad makes cooking at home a lot more fun. 

5. Is there a dish you particularly associate yourself with? 

As funny as it sounds I like soup. Growing up my grandmother always had a huge pot with veggie stock in the back of the stove. It simmered all day long and she would put in any vegetable she could find in the garden. This stock got better each day. I remember the cold days in the winter and then being handed a huge bowl of hot soup. Today, when I make a minestrone, a green bean, or a lentil soup I have flashbacks to those days.

6. Can cooking be learned at culinary schools or natural talent is required? 

I went to culinary school for 5 years and I am glad I did. I probably wouldn’t do what I do today. But I met people who never went to school and who found their talent naturally and worked their way up in the kitchen through gaining experience over the years. But even with natural talent and ambition, I believe some culinary school or safety workshops should be required. 

7. Which is your favorite book and why? 

My favorite book is “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. I read it probably 10 times and it taught me how to work with a team and how to motivate. A kitchen is a stressful environment and sometimes what you say at the moment is not what you really mean. Reading motivational books and books about leadership definitely made me a better manager at work and hopefully a better person in my personal life. 

Instagram ID -  @chefsvengarrett 

Sven Garrett


Interviewed By - Sandeep Virothu 

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