Name: Aaron Lhamon
Title: Executive Chef at The Ghost Walks, Boston, MA
Can you tell us a little bit about how you arrived at this point in your career? How did you start?
I’m an anomaly. I’ve always wanted to cook. As a young kid, I couldn’t reach the deli counter at the store. Mom asked me what I wanted to eat and I asked for shrimp. My Mom wasn’t interested in cooking on the grill that night, but I said I would take care of it. I got three sauces…and cooked the shrimp on the little hibachi on the porch of our apartment. At 16 I made the decision to get into the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield, NH. David Moorehead was the Executive Chef at the time… and that’s how I started.
What trends have you noticed recently in the Boston restaurant world?
It’s possible that the restaurant bubble will pop. Boston is just growing too fast. We have many great chefs but we don’t have the ability to sustain the amount of restaurants that are opening. It’s very expensive and we’ve seen a trend of chefs moving to nearby suburbs to survive and prosper. Restaurants without a strong identity and direction will get lost. It’s painful to see because so many people are working SO hard with the best intentions… but it definitely feels like a bubble. The next three years will tell us where we are going.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about your work?
I don’t work for the business. I don’t work for the owners, managers, or the restaurant. The only two people I work for are the guest and myself. Everyone else involved is just a cog in the machine. It can be a happy machine, but it’s still a machine. If I’m unhappy, the guest is going to get food that isn’t up to my potential. Everyone in the industry needs to realize that they need to take care of themselves if they hope to offer top level food and hospitality over the long term.
Do you have advice for someone just starting out?
Don’t do it! Or, at least, be educated about what you’re getting into. Before you take the plunge into a lifestyle, get some firsthand experience. And I’m choosing the word ‘lifestyle’ very intentionally. It’s not a career, it’s a lifestyle. Be sure it’s 100% what you want. That’s the advice my own mother gave me and I’d give to young people now. Stage in a restaurant first. Talk to chefs. Read books and articles because this is a difficult industry. You won’t know if you can handle the stress until you experience it. It’s noon now and I’ve been on the phone for 7 hours solving issues. And it’s my day off.
What are the top two things people should know about you?
I’m an open book but here are some lesser known facts: I’ve been burned on 34% of my body; I enjoy rock climbing; I play competitive pool; I grew up in Beverly, MA.
Last time you dined out, what was your favorite dish? OR…Last time you dined out, what did you drink?
I don’t think I could pick a favorite but I recently visited Ruckus in Boston. They are killing it over there; I enjoyed everything they had. Really well done. Ruckus is a prime example of an incredibly well thought out and executed concept that nails it.
Tell me about your proudest professional moment.
As far as challenges go, when I started to understand that I don’t know everything, it allowed me to accept help and learning. It allowed me to grow….You can step back and realize people can teach you anything. For example, I worked with two young chefs who had less experience than me but had been doing it at a higher level. They told me my knives weren’t sharp enough. They taught me how to do it better. At the time, I didn’t even know how to sharpen my knives to that level. And it clicked, everyone has something to teach me. Once I accepted that… I could grow. It’s less about people knowing lots or a little… and it’s more about people knowing different things.
I’ve also grown as a leader and learned to control my own emotions. Here’s some truth: I’ve never seen my last night on Hell’s Kitchen. When I was a younger cook I would berate people and make people cry and I’d throw things. It had nothing to do with me being better than them, it had to do with me embarrassing them in front of an entire kitchen to make a point or assert myself. One of my proudest moments was when I realized I was regressing and losing my professionalism while on TV after I had been trying to keep my cool. That show naturally heightens everything. I wasn’t willing to lose myself and professionalism that I had spent so much time developing. We work so hard to become someone and I am willing to work hard to become better and not lose myself for anyone or anything.
Photos via tgwboston.com
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