Coming from a family of restaurateurs, Chef Alaun Grimaud had an early introduction to the culinary industry. After studying the culinary arts in San Francisco, he built his resume in various fine-dining restaurants throughout California. As Sous Chef at Jordan’s Restaurant in Berkeley, Chef Grimaud gained an appreciation for sustainable practices and developed an ingredient-driven mentality. As Chef de Cuisine at El Bizcocho Restaurant in San Diego, he had the opportunity to work with James Beard award winner, Gavin Kaysen, who taught him why plating and food styling are important skills to develop as a chef. Later as Executive Sous Chef, he and his team earned the restaurant a full 5-star review from revered Food Critic, Naomi Wise. As he continued to progress professionally, he spent time at David Kinch’s 3-Michelin Star Restaurant, Manresa and Nancy Oak’s Boulevard, which he notes was, “the most influential working experience,” to this day. With nearly two decades of experience, he joined ICC as a chef instructor in 2017. Reflecting on his own experiences with excellent mentors throughout his career, he views teaching as his way of giving back. As an instructor, he hopes to instill passion and drive in his students.
ICC: Who inspired you to begin cook?
Chef Alaun: My mother for sure; she was a great cook. After high school, I moved to live with my father who never cooked at all, but with recipes that my mom had given me, I started cooking on my own and kept improving from there. Coincidently, my uncles are restaurateurs in Medellin, Colombia. Although I grew up in California, there was always a restaurant vibe in my household and I grew up eating really good food.
ICC: What led you to pursue the Culinary Arts as a career?
Chef Alaun: In my early twenties, I was working as a salesman selling TVs at this place called the Good Guys, and I felt that type of work wasn’t going to last with the Internet. I decided to do something I was really into – cooking. I went to the CCA (California Culinary Academy) in San Francisco because I knew that I needed to learn to cook professionally. I knew that cooking at home does not translate to becoming a chef. The program was a total of a year and a half, and I graduated in 2004 with an Associate of Arts degree.
ICC: Looking back, how do you view your decision to go to school? Was it worth it?
Chef Alaun: Yes! By going to school, you set yourself up to excel. This type of formal training builds a foundation that sets the tone for you to keep learning after you graduate. If you are serious about becoming a professional chef, you need to go to school. After all, more and more employers require a degree.
ICC: How was your first experience working in a professional kitchen?
Chef Alaun: While I went to school at night, during the day I worked at the Pan-Pacific Hotel (PPH) as a prep cook. Right away, I realized the need for personal growth. Seeing the speed and volume of a professional operation was a real eye opener. Because I was surrounded by people with much more experience, it could have been easy to feel discouraged, but thankfully, it pushed me to progress and improve.
ICC: You have an impressive resume, working in many top restaurants in California. One of them was Manresa, what was it like working in a Michelin starred restaurant?
Chef Alaun: I moved back to the Bay Area and did a stage at Manresa with David Kinch. During that time, the restaurant was working towards its 3rd Michelin Star so the atmosphere was really intense. It was really amazing to work in an environment where every last detail was taken into account. As a young cook, I really benefited from this opportunity.
ICC: Of all the restaurants that you’ve worked in, which one was the most memorable and why?
Chef Alaun: In 2008, I accepted a line cook position at Boulevard Restaurant in San Francisco, owned by Executive Chef Nancy Oaks. It was here that I learned to work quickly for high volume service; we averaged 350 covers per night. I felt that I became a good cook at Boulevard more than anywhere else I had worked. It molded me to be able to go into any kitchen and survive! I was also privileged to work with a team of extremely talented people who went on to do great things. It was a humbling experience to be surrounded by skilled colleagues. Looking back, I feel that this was the most influential experiences in my career.
ICC: Who were your most influential mentors and how did they help you?
Chef Alaun: My first and most significant mentors are Hafid Chakri, the Chef who to took me to Jordan’s Restaurant, and Charles Hechinger, the chef who took me to San Diego. They taught me to not worry about what others were doing, but to grow as an individual. They pushed me to do better and emphasized that lasting success comes only to those with a willing attitude and humility. From the example they set, even today as a chef instructor, I recognize that there are many things I have yet to learn.
ICC: Why did you decide to begin teaching and what led you to ICC?
Chef Alaun: After my own experiences with excellent mentors, I wanted to give back. I feel that it is important to keep the culinary arts an exciting thing for young people, so I hope to instill passion and drive into my students. I feel that it is a privilege to train the next generation of cooks. I was attracted to ICC in particular because of the smaller class sizes and hands-on mentality. At ICC, the chef-to-student ratio allows me to see what each individual is doing in order to guide them thoroughly.
ICC: What advice would you give to a student who is about start their culinary career?
Chef Alaun: It’s important to network and maintain a good relationship with your colleagues. Throughout my career, I have found employment because of someone’s connections or recommendations. Young chefs should recognize the fact that if they really want to move up, they need good references. You need to have backing from your previous chef when applying for the next job. It is important to remember that, even if it is just a stage, you want to make an impression and leave with a good reputation. Even when you’ve decided to move on and your last day is approaching, work hard until the last minute.