Chef Chat, Part 2: How Trevor White of Morton's Grille Was Forced to Cook For Himself
Photo by Mai Pham One of White's favorite things: Morton's Veal Chop topped with foie gras butter.
TW: I am definitely a steak-and-potatoes kind of guy. But her thing was, "If you're not going to eat what I'm cooking, then learn to cook for yourself." So I did. From about year 13 on.
EOW: What were you making?
TW: Mexican food. I was in Southern California! Tacos, quesadillas, refried beans, which I'm still not big on, but I like what I make. Most of my friends took shop, and I was in Home Ec. Plus, I found that that's where all the girls were. I was a smart kid. You could hang out with a bunch of guys, and I was hanging out with a bunch of girls. After high school I went to the military. My father's a retired sheriff, so I was with the security police, I worked for the Air Force. I guarded aircraft in upstate New York. I was in it for three years, and so I got out and went straight down to Florida, where I got a job in a restaurant in Florida with a buddy of mine as a bartender.
EOW: So you can make a mean drink.
TW: Yeah, I started out in front of the house. I used to manage restaurants in front of the house. Spent two years in Florida, then moved back to California, and got into the nightclub business in Santa Barbara. Long hours. Too much fun. I was a partner in it with one of my other buddies. We had about a 12,000-square-foot club called the Yucatan Cantina. We had live bands, a restaurant -- it was huge, and at that point, I didn't want to do it anymore. I was 26 at the time. And a buddy of mine, whom I'd opened up a brew pub with a couple of years before -- Derek Ashworth ... when you open up a restaurant, and you're not doing well, you find yourself in the kitchen a lot because you have to save on labor. So I got in the kitchen with him, and he taught me how to cook. And I'm still friends with him to this day, and I attribute a lot to him, because he kind of showed me the passion of food.
And so, when I wanted to get out of the business, I talked to my parents, and they said there's the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. And I said, "Well, I love cooking." So I chose at 26 to go a different direction, and went to culinary school. I got a great job with a company called Real Restaurants. They owned Beetlenut, Fox City Diner and Vic's in San Francisco. I started the Beetlenut concept, and worked for a great chef named Barney Brown, and started with him while I was in culinary school. I got into the sous chef program at that company. And since I had front-of-the-house experience, transitioning to the culinary side was a little easier. And I loved it. I loved the long hours, I loved the push through dinner service. Never a dull moment.