Aron PobereskinAdviser | Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 | 1 Comment »
When Aron Pobereskin was featured in the Chicago Sun-Times in the spring of 2009, I immediately told the D. I showed her the article and we discussed how he would be perfect for the Culinary Arts program or even a fit for the Business Bachelor’s Degree with the Culinary Arts minor that we were desperately trying to figure out how to build properly.
Before I had the chance to entice what I considered to be one of the best culinary arts applicants out there, I was told that my services were no longer needed. As a fan of challenges, I was looking forward to seeing if I could bring this student to the college I represented in the fall. Since that was no longer a possibility, I still wanted to get to know him, to see how he was able to work in some of the best restaurants in Chicago at such a young age, to see what made him tick. What I found by corresponding with Pobereskin and his mother, Janet, by email was that it wasn’t his ability to cook that gave him these opportunities. It was much deeper.
“I had looked for work in kitchens in my hometown of Deerfield, Illinois. I’d pulled all my resources. I went to a friend who had a job at a local diner and I ended up getting an interview there. I thought maybe, if I was lucky I’d get the chance to flip some eggs. I didn’t,” said Pobereskin in an email. “I also looked into a job at a local steakhouse where my family had some connections. After multiple talks with him, I was repeatedly told there would be issues with my age and the fact that the restaurant served alcohol.”
Jobs are difficult to come by with labor laws and competition to consider so the next logical step was for Pobereskin to think outside of the box. To chase his goal of becoming a chef, working in a run-of-the mill diner or steakhouse would not cut it for him.
“I decided that instead of wasting time looking for a job in restaurants that in the future I wouldn’t want to end up in, that I’d look for a place that would understand my passion for food and cooking.”
That restaurant was Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. The same restaurant that has seen some of the best chefs in the industry work in the kitchen. The same restaurant that was recently awarded 2 Michelin stars.
“After revealing in an email to their executive chef that I was 15, had no experience, and would be willing to peel potatoes to be in their kitchen, it almost gave me a heart attack when I found out I was in,” said Pobereskin.
While most teenagers hearts may be pounding in anticipation of asking someone out to a homecoming dance, Pobereskin was trembling because he was about to walk inside a world-famous establishment to intern for the night without any experience besides cooking in his families kitchen. When he approached the back door for duty that night, he was met with a little curiosity by the chef. “He asked why I was there. I sort of blanked out for a moment, taking in the smell of star anise, that tuna, and a mushroom stock simmering. Down to this day, that smell has been my favorite,” said Pobereskin. “I said I was there to intern and I was lead through the beautiful, custom kitchen, down a hallway, through a locker room and given a chef’s jacket.”
His first task was to peel black garlic: an ingredient he had never seen before and followed up his 12 hour shift cleaning mushrooms, and roasting quince. Impressive for someone that couldn’t get a job in as a prep cook in a steakhouse.
After his stint at Charlie Trotter’s, he followed it up by staging at Alinea to work alongside Grant Achatz and his talented team for three months. The young apprentice had managed to secure two opportunities to work alongside some of the best in the business all without the assistance of contacts or connections. Pobereskin feels that it has been more rewarding that way. Although he was getting great experience in the kitchen, he was also getting some interesting reactions from those he worked under.
“Many were enthusiastic at Trotter’s with the staff really going out of their way for me. Many have come from the same place as me and I think that is important. The industry is about mentoring, family, and helping everyone to progress,” said Pobereskin. “I’ve also experienced disbelief. After 3 months at Alinea, the former Sous Chef turned expediter, hadn’t believed I was 16 until my last week, when he asked what school I went to. Apparently, he thought I was just slow.”
Since the Sun-Times article, Pobereskin has decided that going to culinary school is his best option at this time for 2011 when he graduates in the spring. Some chefs have questioned Pobereskin as they feel that he doesn’t need it and would be better off getting his cooking experience on the job. While taking advice from chefs is valid, his mother also played a role in guiding his decision although attending culinary school wasn’t her initial first choice. Shore was not surprised as he had shown at an early age a love and passion for cooking beyond just watching the Food Network. She allowed him to enroll in cooking classes in New Jersey at the age of 11 as well as Kendall College at the age of 14 but initially felt traditional education was a better fit.
“As I saw it, there were 3 choices: a traditional college, a culinary college or no college at all,” said Shore. “Initially, I had hoped that Aron would attend a 4-year traditional college. I wanted him to have something to fall back on if his cooking career didn’t work out or should he decide to change careers later on in his life… However, observing how incredibly passionate and focused Aron was when it came to cooking, I realized that traditional college would probably not work for him. He would not be able to apply the same energy level to traditional studies and could also lose the momentum he had been building in the culinary field.”
While Pobereskin also sees the need and value of education, his perspective is slightly different because of his experience and exposure to world-reclaimed chefs.
“Ultimately, the decision to go to culinary school came out of needing a sense of security. While I have gained so much food knowledge from my restaurant jobs in the last two years, I feel that I still don’t have that repertoire of basic culinary technique that I will need to become a strong chef. Grant Achatz wasn’t able to create his ingenious “Truffle Explosion” ravioli of truffle liquid, until he was able to understand why duck stock turns into a gelatin when it is cooled and back into a liquid when it was heated. I can’t reinvent foods until I understand them first. I see culinary school as a necessary foundation to build off of… While he (Achatz) may have been the same great chef he is without having gone, I can’t know for sure, I’m not sure that he knows either.”
Pobereskin plans to follow his Achatz path with culinary school and has applied and been accepted to the Culinary Institute of America for 2011. He currently works at Kith and Kin but is now being paid for his services. He still feels fortunate to be working with a talented team but has a sense of validation now that a paycheck comes from his time and effort.
“It’s great having him in the kitchen,” said Andrew Brochu, Chef of Kith and Kin. “I attended culinary school but had worked for six years in the industry before that. I am not going to discourage anyone from getting their education but you can also learn about cooking on the job and through books.”
When not spending time working in the Lincoln Park hotspot, he attends Deerfield high school while maintaining a 3.5 GPA and doing what most teenagers do: hanging out with friends and teaching himself the bass guitar. And of course, he cooks for family and friends when he can.
Lives aren’t molded by chance. Many factors shape the individual and the eventual paths they choose in life. Being raised by parents that instilled the values of family, friends, culture, and work ethic helped Pobereskin achieve what he has earned at a young age. He could go on to become a successful chef. It is a possibility for him to be a part of the next generation of leaders in the food industry. However, Pobereskin could go onto becoming successful at anything because he already possesses one character trait that you cannot learn from a textbook: character.