Captain Cook

By Hannah Rosenberg

Working in one of chef Wolfgang Puck’s (Cameron ’07 and Byron Lazaroff-Puck ’13) renowned restaurants is a goal most cooks dream of, but is one that Riley Guerin ’11 has already achieved.

As a prep cook and a party cook at Spago, Wolfgang Puck’s high-end flagship restaurant in Beverly Hills, Guerin cooked an eight-hour shift Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Guerin initially faced skepticism from his colleagues when he was hired in August.

“It was difficult in the beginning since everyone there is at least 10 years older than me,” Guerin said. “I definitely had to prove myself, but now most of the chefs like me.”

The pressures of a rigorous high school curriculum are nothing compared to the challenges Guerin faces over an open flame, he said.

“Cooking there is so stressful,” Guerin said. “If you make a mistake it affects everyone. Everyone puts pressure on themselves to be the best. It’s exhausting. By the end of the weekend all I want to do is sleep, but I have to finish my homework and get ready for school the next day.”

The difficulties of balancing his schoolwork and job led Guerin to stop working at Spago.

“It was pretty tough to manage my time around the restaurant,” Guerin said. “I still cook for my family all the time, and I will probably get another job when I’m 16 or 17. I’ll just take a break and focus on schoolwork until then.”

Guerin started at the bottom of the kitchen’s food chain, but quickly rose in rank.

“At first all I did was prep the ingredients for the other chefs mostly chopping vegetables and things like that,” Guerin said.

Before long, Guerin aided experienced chefs in the preparation of dishes for private parties.

As his job responsibilities increased, so did the physical dangers of restaurant work.

“I either cut or burn myself at least once a day, that’s just one of the elements of being a chef,” Guerin said, showing off his bandaged fingers.

Guerin finds the kitchen environment so natural that he often forgets that he isn’t behind the restaurant counter.

“In the kitchen when you walk behind someone, you always say ‘behind’ so that they don’t run into you,” Guerin said. “But one day I was at school and I was walking past a senior I didn’t know, and I accidently said ‘behind’. It was so awkward, and all my friends were laughing.”