Second part of three parts, please start here with Part 1
As executive chef of Petrossian Restaurant in West Hollywood, chef Giselle Wellman practices what she preaches and teaches what she has learned. After graduating from the Cordon Bleu in Mexico City a year out of high school, the chef, Jesse Paul, at her first job in San Diego advised her that if she wanted to learn how to do something in a kitchen to always work for the best chef at that skill. So, for example, to make bread or pasta she should go work for the best bread baker or pasta maker. Getting this advice inspired Giselle to want to work for Jean-Georges. At this time too, Tony DiSalvo a former Executive Chef for Jean-Georges opened up a restaurant Jack’s in La Jolla, CA. So she went to work at Jack’s until, as was discussed with Chef DiSalvo, he felt she was ready to move to NYC and work directly for Jean-Georges at his flagship restaurant. This took six months in Jack’s kitchen. During that time one of many things she learned there was kitchen etiquette.
So Giselle moved to NYC to work at Jean-Georges namesake restaurant. She thought she’d enjoy this city’s night life, but having to get up early to work at six in the morning and working until six in the evening quickly put that notion to rest. This experience was quite a bit different than Jack’s. Here she was part of a machine. She learned a lot, but NYC’s high cost of living was very difficult for a young line chef getting paid almost nothing. She burned through all of her savings. Plus she enjoyed the more personalized training she had received before back west. So when a sous chef position became available at Jack’s, she moved back to her parent’s house in San Diego and went back to work for Chef DiSalvo for another few years.
At Jack’s she was one of four people back of house. Thus working so closely one on one every day with Chef DiSalvo and the Chef de Cuisine Marco, she learned “so much” getting so much personalized attention.
Though Jack’s went through a transition; initially it was very “Jean-Georges”, but then it became a steak house, and finally turned into an Italian food concept (returning to DiSalvo’s roots) where given her choice, Giselle chose to work in the pasta station which she hadn’t done before. So at Jack’s she was doing fifteen fresh pastas a day. She fell in love with this activity. She described it as “very Zen” working with the pasta dough.
When business at Jack’s started to slow down, Giselle- with this new love for pasta making- took advantage of another opportunity to go work in NYC at Mario Batalli’s Del Posto as a line cook at the meat station, the best yet most difficult cook position in this kitchen. This was a much sought after job, so the other cooks already working here weren’t enthralled that this job was given to an outsider. Since this is a meat driven concept with three hundred covers, the volume was something new for Giselle plus she had to prove herself to the other cooks, many of whom wanted to see her fail. It took her a good thirty days to find her groove. Additionally including her commute to Yonkers, her work day was a long one from 10 AM in the morning until nearly 1:00 AM at night.
After seven months of this schedule, when her boy friend moved back to Los Angeles, Wellman did too where she joined Thomas Keller’s Bouchon for a year. Since this was during that restaurant’s first year, Keller was there frequently. Bouchon is a restaurant where basic French recipes are done to perfection. So for Giselle it was a great opportunity for her to remember many of these basics she hadn’t used since culinary school.
After then taking her first break from the business in eight years and returning to San Diego her home for the summer, she then staged at Alinea in Chicago for a week. Here the modernist technique was the antithesis of what she was just doing a few months prior at Bouchon. So despite being offered a full time position at Alinea, what she really learned was that molecular gastronomy wasn't the type of cooking she wanted to do.
She thought Alinea’s food was amazing. It made her think outside of the box, so she was strongly considering taking that position offered when out of the blue she got a call from Petrossian Restaurant regarding her current employment. She took this job instead because she just doesn't think about food the same way that Alinea’s Chef Grant Achatz does. Rather Wellman’s approach is more rustic. She likes simple flavors that take one back to one’s mother’s cooking.
Wellman’s rustic approach thus was a good fit for the Petrossian Restaurant since the Petrossian family’s goal is to make caviar extremely approachable where you can indulge but still feel like you’re at home.
End of Part 2; please click here for Part 3 to continue