CL: Considering that you were self-taught, how did you come to a point where you're cooking at a restaurant like Blue?
Gene Briggs: I think to a certain extent, you have to have a tenacity to work in this business. They're long hours, and it's stressful work. Some people thrive in those situations, and I'm one of those people.
Did your cooking skills come naturally?
The first thing that I ever cooked was an egg, but it was the greatest thing I had ever done up to that point. Over time, I would pick up different things from each person that I worked with. Eventually, it all melds together and you can come up with your own culinary philosophy.
Do you see yourself owning your own restaurant?
Hopefully. I wouldn't mind growing with this company, and someday when I have enough resources, just saying that now it's time to do my one and only thing. One thing I do want to stress is that although I didn't go to school, all of my sous chefs went to culinary school. Every sous chef I have ever had work for me, I pushed them to go to culinary school. I think it's important.
Why is that? There are a lot of chefs who are self-taught and as successful as you.
It gives you a step up. I had to work with guys for years before they would teach me the same stuff that those who go to school are learning in only a couple of years, and they're taught by phenomenal chefs.
It's known that the restaurant business is one of the toughest in terms of the success rate. What do you think it takes to make a restaurant be a success?
I think it's the synergy between everything, between the ambience of the restaurant, the food coming out of the kitchen, and the identities of the people that are running it. I like to have a strong influence in everything. I like to be out there talking to people.
How often do you come out of the kitchen and see the way people have reacted to a dish?
Not as often as I would like. It's so busy sometimes that you have to stay and maintain things in the kitchen. A lot of times, though, people will ask if they can talk to the chef. And I do like to walk out to the front of the dining room to see them set that plate in front of people, and when they take that first bite, they're like, "Oh, my God." They then want to share their plate at the table.
Do they ask to speak with you so they can commend the food?
Yes, but sometimes they've instead told me that it was bad.
Really? How do you handle that?
It happens. It's not easy. Unfortunately, you can't please everybody. If I could please 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time, I would never have to worry about anything. You have to be able to swallow your pride sometimes. Then you just ask them what you can do to fix it. That's the hardest part; that's why I'm not a waiter.
For somebody who's aspiring to be a chef, what kind of advice would you give them?
Stick to your guns. If you have a cooking philosophy that you like, then stick to it. You always have to remember that you can only please yourself just so much. A lot of people get caught up in the idea that "when I'm this great chef, this is what you're going to eat." But the big thing to remember is you have to cook what other people want to eat; it's not just about you. To a certain extent, you have to let people in the seat dictate what they're going to eat. You can still showcase your talents by doing that, but you have to always keep in mind that you have to keep everybody happy.
Blue Restaurant is on the corner of College and Fifth Streets in uptown Charlotte. The restaurant hours are 11am to 10pm Monday through Thursday; 11am to 11pm on Friday; 5pm to 11pm on Saturday. The bar stays open until 2am on Friday and Saturday. Closed on Sunday. 704-927-2583.