At 19, Ross worked for Publix supermarket and was about to become the assistant manager. Part-time, he was flipping hot dogs in a deli and when a cook called in sick, Ross filled in using skills he had picked up from watching those in the kitchen.
"It was slammed and I just got wrapped up in the excitement," he relates. "The excitement of it, the intensity, the multitasking and the overall experience of all the tickets coming in — it was just something that I thought I was built for."
The next day, he walked in Publix and gave his notice, ready to start his career in the kitchen.
He spent the next three years cooking for a beach hotel in Naples, FL, then moved to the four-star, four-diamond restaurant at the Hilton on Marco Island.
Three years later, he moved up again when he went to work for The Ritz-Carlton, a five-star, five-diamond restaurant.
Although Ross was learning the ropes from high-end establishments, he decided at the age of 27 that the next step was a move from Florida to The Culinary Institute of America.
"I used it more as a finishing school. I wanted to learn how to use French terminology and the science behind things so I could then communicate to people how and why stuff happens."
For Ross, his experience in restaurants prior to culinary school was the key to continuing his career in the field.
"If cooking is something that you want to do, put yourself in the situation where you are going to find out if you can make it or not. If you want to make a career change, find out if you have the intensity and the forethought and the ability to be able to pull it out. Don't decide on culinary school right away until you have seen what the job is like. Find out if you want to cook first. You can end up going to culinary school when you're 50 — people are always going to need to eat."
Once he completed culinary school and an externship at the Sienna Hotel in Chapel Hill, Ross spent the next few years moving around, gaining experience at various resorts and restaurants.
Ross met his wife along the way, and family in North Carolina prompted their decision to settle in Charlotte. After the move, he decided to take a break from the kitchen, so he landed a job with the Holiday Inn as the Assistant Food and Beverage Director.
"At that point in time, I decided I wanted to start honing my skills in front of the house."
Ross wasn't out of the kitchen for long when he saw in the paper McIntosh's ad looking for a chef. Three weeks after training on the line, Ross was made Executive Chef, where he has remained about three years, excluding a brief stint as the Sous Chef for Raintree Country Club.
Today, McIntosh's remains known for upscale steak and seafood. In mid-July, renovations will begin internally as well as externally, including a new bar and lounge area.
For Ross, this means more balancing in the kitchen. "I'm big on efficiency — I think it's the most important thing to me other than being punctual. I like to make things happen, and it's one of those types of jobs where every day you have to make it happen. Every day, you have to perform and be on your game, and that's what I enjoy."
McIntosh's Steaks and Seafood is at 1812 South Boulevard. Open Monday through Thursday from 5-10pm, and on Friday and Saturday from 5-11pm. Call 704-342-1088.