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Deciding to become a chef and open your own restaurant isn’t the most traditional career move. It’s even more unusual if you started your career in public relations and events management and have no formal culinary training. But that’s exactly what Salil Mehta did, and the results have been remarkable.
In 2010, Salil, who grew up in New Delhi, India, opened Laut in Manhattan’s Union Square, one of the first Malaysian restaurants in New York City to receive a Michelin Star, not to mention kudos from Anthony Bourdain. In 2016, he expanded his culinary empire with The Chinese Club in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg district, featuring the Desi-Wala Chinese food he and his wife Stacey enjoyed as kids in India. The restaurant was a hit — it even scored a cameo in a Master of None episode – and now boasts an outpost in Manhattan.
In between running his restaurants and parenting his three children, Salil took a few minutes to weigh in on finding your passion, remaining humble, keeping yourself honest.
1. Keep an Open Mind
I went to design school and never thought I would open my own restaurant. But school allowed me to open up my mind. It taught me how to think, how to break down a problem and think of a solution. I use that in my restaurants. What are the tastes I want to create? Who am I making a particular dish for? It allowed me to forge my own path and figure out my own way of doing things.
2. Love the Thing You Do
Before you commit yourself to something, you should have a passion for it. If you don’t have a passion for something, you will never try as hard as you need to. If you come to my house and look at my library, I have about 300 cookbooks. If I am reading, I am reading cookbooks, trying to find inspiration. That’s because my passion never dies.
3. Educate Yourself
There is never a time when you can stop learning. If somebody says they know everything, they are the biggest idiots on the planet. The more you specialize in different foods, the more you realize how little you know. It’s like opening a can of worms. There is never a time you are not learning.
4. Trust your Audience
There are times when there are things I don’t like on my menu, but I keep them on the menu because customers want them. If you provide people what they want, there is less of a chance of failure. Stay confident in who you are and don’t constantly change things, but it’s also important to get other people’s opinions.
5. Expect the Best and Prepare for the Worst
I think initial success can be intoxicating sometimes. Once you have that success, you tend to do things out of instinct rather than through proper training and preparation. So always prepare as if you are going to fail, but work as if you know you are going to be successful.
6. Take Time for Your Family
When business and family mix, business usually wins. But people should understand that family is the most important thing. I don’t want to die not knowing about my kids’ childhood. It is better not to simply go after the money, and instead concentrate on the things you really love. You may end up making less, but you will be happy and will have priceless memories of your family.
Why is it that for so many people who come from Asian families, there is always an aunt or grandma who always made the best food? That’s because she didn’t take any shortcuts, because she was doing it for somebody she loves. You should take that same perspective with everything you do and avoid shortcuts. Go the full length. If you do everything the right way, the results will be great.
8. Embrace Humility
Be humble. Always be humble. Don’t let success get your head. Success can go as fast as it comes. No matter what bad situation you are in, there is always someone who is in a worse situation. And no matter the good situation you are in, there is someone with a better situation. So be happy with what you have.
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