On this week's Special Sauce I chat with Missy Robbins, the chef and owner of Lilia in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Missy describes her 20-year journey to opening her own place with such sharp clarity that after we finished recording, I was unable to think about anything else for hours. And when we tried to edit our conversation down to one episode we found that we couldn't, so this week's episode is just part one.
Missy started cooking as a senior in college for the princely sum of $7 an hour, working the Friday and Saturday night dinner service, which is prime party time for any other student. And she loved it. She recalls, "I went on that first Friday and I loved it. I didn't look at my watch."
Missy has some surprising things to say about the trials and tribulations of being a woman cook in a restaurant kitchen. While it isn't something she likes to talk about, even though she acknowledges it's an important topic, she says, "I didn't face obstacles. I put my head down, I worked." In fact, she recalls being yelled at more by a great woman chef she worked for than anyone else—and she didn't mind it. But even now in her own kitchen at Lilia, which was just named as a finalist for the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant, she thinks it's important to have a gender balance.
Missy also talks about how working in a hotel kitchen for an enlightened head male chef made her "nicer." While she says she was actually pretty nice—although she was a notorious and self-described workaholic at the time—she admits that she was also "a tough manager who didn't know how to listen and didn't know how to talk to people properly."
And that's just a taste of how she describes her journey from being a college cook to earning a Michelin star at both locations of A Voce in Manhattan. For more about her decision to walk away from the A Voce, "hoping for a grand epiphany," you'll just have to listen.
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