Donaven D.





Director focusing on portrait, product, fashion, food photography 
and video work.

Creative Photographer- Donaven's Visuals

Table for Two

Table for Two, a series between a food lover and some of the best chefs whose passion and creativity is displayed even before plating. Each week I meet with chefs who are serious about pushing boundaries and most importantly not following the rules in the restaurant industry, they learn techniques and add their own signature to the dish.

Carlos Perez

To begin this series I met Chef Carlos Perez, Owner of La Palette Bakery and Executive Chef at 4 Eat and Drink, house where he was more than welcoming and open to sharing his knowledge and experience in the restaurant. If you are in the Farmington area and are looking for a meal be sure to visit Carlos Perez at either of his locations. 

Did you attend culinary/how did you find in passion in becoming a chef?

When I was 8 years old my mother showed me how to make chocolate chip cookies from scratch, I was on vacation from school. Both my parents are artists and I’ve always loved creating and admiring the finished product. Not long after she had surgery and was on bed rest. I wrote a whole menu for the week and cooked it for her. After that, it just stuck. At 12 I went to the French bakery in town and bought a french style cheesecake. The owner tasted it and asked me to come back a year later when I was 13, probably not thinking that I would. I did, he hired me and I worked 40 hrs a week throughout high school. When I graduated I went straight to the French culinary institute but a lot of the techniques had already been shown to me. It gave me a running start…

Describe what being a Chef is to you, why do you choose to wake up and do this every day?

Its art, plain and simple, being a chef is the same as being an artist, just a different medium. You’re painting your picture on a plate instead of a canvas. We have a responsibility not only to keep providing beautiful delicious food for society but also educate them on health, farm to table, organic, sustainability. I wake up every day excited for work (except brunch, every chef hates working brunch), because its a new day to create new dishes, I get to see the satisfaction when the customer has the first bite, or see the empty plate when it comes back from the dining room. I get to spend my days working with my best friends and kitchen family knowing they’ve got my back and I’ve got theirs. I'm part of a team, working towards a common goal to satisfy, inspire, and provoke emotion. What a cool fucking industry to be a part of!

What are the ups and downs of being in the kitchen?

This list could go on forever. Ups? Free quality food, you get to work with a lot of different ingredients, taste things that most people don’t even get to see. You get to change the menu and run specials…bored making striped bass? let's change it up and do suckling pig. You are part of a working family in the kitchen, I can ask anyone of my guys for absolutely anything, they’d give me the shirt off their back because we’re all basically brothers. We’re always talking, even when we don’t work together, we give each other advice, help each other through good times and bad, and boost each other up. That's not just in this one kitchen, I still have friendships like that from guys I worked with 5 years ago.
Downsides? Long hours, lack of time for family and friends outside of work, you always smell like onions, garlic, and fish. Your clothes get stained, your body deteriorates much quicker than most other jobs, the stress level is super high at all times, you have to meet deadlines, there's no other option. You get burnt…and you get burnt ou
So its safe to say the life of a chef takes a toll on personal life?

Ha. Yes. It's not easy, especially with relationships, its one of those things you have to choose which one is more important to you unless you find someone that has the same sort of hustle and works a million hours a week. Being a chef restricts your personal time, you don’t have much time to see family or friends. You’re working when everyone else goes out to socialize and enjoy themselves, family dinners, holidays, Xmas eve, weekends, birthdays, graduations special occasions. Even when you are off, a lot of times you sleep it away. I have Thanksgiving and Christmas off from the bakery, catering, and restaurant, but the craziness prior is so physically and mentally draining that I’ll often time sleep through the day (96 straight hours of cooking and baking with no sleep is my record) You miss out on so much in life in terms of family and relationships. Besides that, you’re constantly rushing, it makes running errands really hard and just day to day activities. Time for the gym? Forget about it, you barely have time to put gas in your car.

So I've always heard rumors that a Chefs eating habit is absolutely horrible and consist of a lot of junk food. Would you say that's true? How would you describe your eating habits?

We’re overexposed to a lot of great high-quality food. On any given night we stare at hundreds of lbs of chicken, pork, beef, and seafood. We taste, to make sure the flavors are right, but for the most part, were so overexposed to it that we crave things we don’t make. At 4 Eat and Drink in Farmington the owner owns Naples Pizza next door. That makes up most of our diet, pizza, grinders, whatever we don’t make. There's a scene in burnt I always bring up because I think its brilliant. Bradley Cooper looks at the fast food burger and says something along the lines of “taking poor cuts of meat and making them into something delicious for the working class, the basis of French peasant food”. This industry is built on the working class, were not in this to get rich, we eat what we can afford…and a lot of the time that's late at night when everything is closed because we grind all day long. Our fridges are bare most of the time because it's very rare that we want to cook at night (although I still do and experiment with dishes when I get home). My personal habits always consist of some sort of coffee in the morning, normally espresso, not usually any food. Early afternoon I’ll shovel whatever I can make in under 3 min in my mouth, possibly a slice of pizza if Naples brings some over at night, but not till after the rush so usually 10 or 11…if I’m still hungry I’ll usually stop at the store and grab a quick snack.

What are you looking to accomplish next?

Long-term id like to own a couple of different restaurants, possibly different concepts. On a much more short-term level though I just want to keep growing and gaining attention, learning for my own sake. Especially as of late I’ve received so many messages from people I haven’t seen in years or even people I’ve never met complimenting my work, praising the Anthony Bourdain Tribute dinner coming up in July, and supporting the constant hustle, I’m humbled by it, its a great feeling. My biggest accomplishment id like to tackle is to be inspiring to other chefs, to get them to step into the light, work their butts off, get noticed and gain recognition, to get them to work as a team towards a common positive goal.

Glenn Hill Jr.

On this series of Table for Two I met with Chef Glen Hill Jr. who resides in my hometown Bridgeport, CT. I met Glen via instagram, where he photographed a plate he prepared, a plate showing Glen’s competitive in the kitchen. Glen is a laid back guy that says a lot with a few words, and what I learned from commuting with Glen to multiple local farmers markets and butcher shops is that details and results is all that matters
Q: Chef Glen, how long have you been a chef for?
A: I have been cooking for the last 9 years, but have been an Exectuive Chef for 3 years

Q: What’s your experience in the cooking world? Did you attend culinary or self-taught? A: I did attend Center for Culinary Arts and from there I have been cooking for 9 years professionally and 3 years as Executive Chef. I have also beenfortunate enough to work with some great chefs.

Q: What moment in your life made you realize being a chef is what you wanted to be? A: I knew that being a chef was my vision since I was 10, watching the Food Network and eating my grandmothers food. Taste the love.

Q: If you didn’t put in the 12 consecutive years being a chef, what would Glen be doing today?
A: When I was younger I use to be big into drawing, so maybe an artist of some sort.

Q: We visited a few farmers markets today and at one of the locations you mentioned you enjoyed the competitiveness in the restaurant, why does that atmosphere excite you. A: It’s a constant adrenaline in the kitchen, fast pace, high demand and the food better be at its best quality too; no matter how busy. The burns, yelling, the pressure its addicting
Q: What has been your greatest accomplishment and your biggest lesson in your career so far?
A: My biggest accomplishment so far I would say has has been working my way up and achieving my title as Executive Chef. My biggest lesson, definitely learning not to be so hard on myself in a career where you’re judged by your food.

Q: Now that people know a little bit more about you, where can people dine and eat one of your meals?
A: People can find me at Salt Bar located at 14 Harbor Point Road, Stamford, CT.

Q: So, does Glen have a strong desire to own your own restaurant? Is this an immediate goal for you?
A:  Of course owning my own restaurant is a goal of mine, but is there a rush, no, no rush right now.

Q: So now that the food is done, lets focus on what you have prepared. Why did you choose this dish, how would you describe it?
A: This dish describes the way I like to eat, its fresh, organic and local. When your ingredients are as fresh as the ones we picked up you just let them speak for themselves. We should always support local farmers.

Q: To close out this series I have to ask what is one goal you have to accomplish before the year ends?
A: Definitely would be to kill it at the spot I’m at now, Salt Bar.

John Brennan

Next up on Table for Two I sat down with Chef John Brennan who operates two restaurants, Elm City Social (266 College Street) and Olives and Oil (124 Temple Street) residing in New Haven, CT. What makes this sit down different and unique is that John’s restaurants are literally right around the corner from each other, offering two different dining experiences. I would describe John’s personality as relaxed and wants people surrounding him to have a good time, but takes his craft serious, which you could witness by watching Chopped Season 36 Episode 9.
Q: How long have you been a chef for?

A: I have been cooking professionally for over 15 years. This spurns the question, what is a chef? To me a Chef is a teacher and a leader most among other things. I’ve run kitchens for the past ten years so I’ll go with that!

Q: Was cooking a big part of your life growing? Who influenced you the most when it came to cooking?

A: Growing up in a Sicilian household, food was always important to us and it was always important to me as I was a chubby little kid! I grew up cooking with my mother, who now works as my pastry chef at both restaurants by the way, so I learned allot from her. I learned allot on my own, I would sneak cooking myself meals when my mother was at work when I was little and I learned allot just experiencing different cooking techniques working for different restaurants. I was that little kid who ordered crab cakes, lobster, tartare & Pellegrino water to wash it down with when given any opportunity to do so…I guess it was always a part of who I was.

Q: For the people that may not know, you are one of Chopped Finalist on season 36 EP 9, what was that experience like for you?

Being on Chopped was certainly an experience and it’s true that you don’t know your ingredients until you open your box and start cooking, no TV tricks involved in that one! It’s a long day of filming, especially if you make it to the last round, which I did, and it was certainly one of the more stressful cooking situations I have experienced in my career. Even though I didn’t win, it was still a good experience. It was fun filming with the TV crew on sight and at both my restaurants after. I would probably put myself through the ringer again if they reached out to me… I think one of the common characteristics of being a Chef is being a glutton for punishment and I am no exception!

Q: Speaking of punishment, as most of us know,  the restaurant industry is not an industry for those who can't take a good amount of punches, what are some of your tips on being successful in the restaurant business?

A: If you’re not a workaholic, don’t really enjoy cooking, interacting with people, training people, re-training people, and then doing it all over again constantly while sleeping minimally & drinking heavily I wouldn’t suggest it! Outside of the usual; managing your costs, being as impeccable as you can with your food, drink & service model, I think it really comes down to training staff, setting up systems and having a great crew. If your team sucks…it reflects on you.

Q: Would you say being in the kitchen is your form of peace/stress relief?

A: Cooking has always been one of those things for me where I can escape whatever is on my mind and just focus on what I am doing, maybe that’s how I fell in love with it. When you’re cooking on the line and the tickets are rolling in, there is not really any time to think about anything else than the task at hand, to me that’s comforting. I heard a quote recently describing manual labor as solace from a busy mind, I identify with that for sure.

Q: Do you find it challenging at times to revamp your menu and bring something new to your restaurants? How you find new inspiration?

A: Creating new ideas, menu items and fun things to do has never been a struggle for me. I do try and keep up constantly with what’s trending, relevant, fun & cool but I would say getting the public to try it, or try something new or different to them is harder than everyone might think. Even in this “foodie” world most people still want the basics. So, it’s a dance of introducing customers to new things and making the best version of what they are comfortable with that we can.

Q: For your customers what's the difference between Elm City Social and Olive's and Oil?

A: Elm City Social is my first restaurant and will always be my baby but any creation I bring to life has an incredible amount of importance to me, as usually these ideas are nurtured for years before they come to fruition. Quite simply Elm City Social’s menu is, “New American” featuring gourmet bar bites, hearty twists on American cuisine with farm fresh ingredients and great craft cocktails. The word, social, is literately how I view the vibe of Elm City Social; grab your friends, some cocktails, nom on some sharable snacks and hang out at our bar, have dinner in our dining room or join us on our rooftop tiki bar! It’s all about being social, eating great food and having an awesome time!

Olives and Oil is my second baby and its cuisine hits close to my heart. Growing up in a Sicilian household, there was nothing more important than what was for dinner, what you were serving for the holidays and how you were cooking it! Allot of the recipes we use, or at least the recipes that started my recipes, were my family’s recipes passed down from generation to generation. Just like at Elm City Social, all of our food is made from scratch, including our fresh pasta made in house daily. Olives and Oil is my Italian kitchen with a touch of some modern flair focused on “old school” cooking techniques and fresh ingredients. Oh yea…we also have 16 wines on tap!

Q: This may be difficult to answer, but which restaurant do you enjoy working at more, Elm City Social or Olive's and Oil?

A: I don’t have a favorite restaurant to work at, both menus are different and it’s fun to cook items on both menus! Any day I’m cooking in either of my restaurants I feel blessed to have the opportunity to do what I do!

Q: We all have a favorite go-to meal that we can eat just about every day, what's your favorite meal to eat?

A: Man…I love eating, tasting food, exploring different cuisines and pairing them with cocktails, wines, beers, mocktails, spirits and anything else you can imagine. Sometimes it’s the simplest things though…I’m a sucker for Indian food, Thai food and anything spicy! Give me all the exotic flavors!

Q: What has been your best accomplishment as a chef and as a restaurant owner so far?

A: I worked for over ten years in the industry as a professional before I was able to open my first restaurant, Elm City Social. It was always my goal to open my own restaurant and honestly, I considered that my life goal for so long that anything else after that is just icing on the cake.

Q: Does John Brennan have plans on opening a third restaurant in the future, if so where would the ideal place be?

A: Right now, I am sitting on at least 5-6 conceptual ideas and my mind is always running overtime when it comes to this subject. The answer is yes, I am always looking for the next great spot…and honestly, I’ve been itching for a new project as of recently! Usually after my summer vacation, I come back with all kinds of ideas…I was just recently in Cuba in July and that spurned all kinds of interesting culinary discussions amongst my business partners and myself. To me, beyond the obvious when looking at locations, it’s all about fitting the right concept in the right area. We see so many times these cookie cutter chains come into a community and force their brands on consumers, I prefer to create a concept around the location, its needs and what I think the local community will enjoy.
Q: For the upcoming chefs, what advice can you provide to them not to do in the industry?

A: My advice would be to work hard, follow your dreams but don’t forget the importance of honing your skills. As chefs, we have the opportunity to learn something new every day, get better at a skill every day, be better teachers, leaders and role models. As for what not to do, don’t get caught up in the negative side of the culture too much. Working in the world of rich foods & cocktails is certainly not an uninteresting experience and don’t get me wrong, I am all about having a good time, but I have seen many chef’s waste their talent, not reach their full potential or just mess up their lives getting caught up in the dark side of what the service industry has to offer. I can’t say I haven’t done it myself, but it’s important to take care of yourself, this is something we tend to overlook as Chefs.
To keep up with John and his restaurants give him a follow on instagram @chefjohnbrennan @elm_city_social and @olivesandoil