If at First You Don’t Succeed…

Back when I was just starting in my career in 1987, I moved to Stanford, CT, in typical Kelley fashion, I had not thought certain logistics through—like where I was going to sleep. The first week working at the Sterling Ocean House, as a newly promoted sous chef, I slept in my car in the parking lot and took baths in the bathroom sink.

On my very first day, unfortunately like in most restaurants, I was put on the “garde mangier” station by myself. Obviously, as it was my first day, I had never seen any of the menu items, so I was making it up as I went along. We started to get busy and to say that I was in the weeds would have been an understatement. It was pretty demoralizing to watch the look on the servers’ faces as they watched me try to just get through the shift. Halfway through service, I ran out of smoked salmon and asked Chef where I could get more, to which he replied, “In the freezer, straight ahead, top shelf.” I went through the walk-in, opened up the freezer door, saw the smoked salmon, stepped on a box, grabbed the salmon and went back to work. At the end of the lunch shift, I looked across the kitchen and I saw the owner, Brian Walters, and Chef Jeff looking at me and talking. Jeff approached me, asked to see the bottom of my shoe and took me into the walk-in freezer, where he opened the box that I had stepped on and inside was a crushed wedding cake that the pastry chef had just finished and put into the freezer to set for a wedding the next day. Jeff made me call the pastry chef to come back in and fix the cake and after getting him on the phone, I retreated into the bathroom and cried like a baby. Needless to say, my first day, I made many enemies.

Throughout the next six months, Jeff taught me more about food than I had ever thought I could know. He encouraged me to be creative and that is when I began my passion for collecting cookbooks. The moral of this story is that you learn more from your brutal mistakes than your successes.

As Don Shula says “Success is not forever and failure is not fatal”.


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