It takes a lot to rattle mild-mannered, humble chef John Fraser, but if there's one thing that gets under his skin, it's apathy.
"One thing I absolutely hate, it goes back to employees for me, it's apathy. Either you want to be here and you're here and you're present, or you're not," he said. "Also, in terms of customers as well, sort of being here -- I just can't stand that. Make a choice."
Fraser, owner and executive chef of New York City's critically acclaimed Dovetail (three stars from The New York Times) doesn't only have high expectations for his kitchen staff and his patrons, he expects a lot from himself. Known for his strong work ethic, Fraser said his parents -- his mother Liza in particular -- reinforced the importance of always giving 100 percent.
"My father always had two jobs. My mother had a job and was taking care of us. After I left the house, my mother went back to school and got her masters', and she is now in sort of her second career," he said. "But we always were working, I mean, whether it was around the house, sports, whatever it was. It was always about how hard you can work."
And the hard work never stops. Among his peers Fraser is known as a culinary mastermind. Most attribute that to his drive and his undying need for culinary perfection.
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Fraser, 33, grew up eating food grown in his family's Yucaipa, Calif., backyard, a farm of sorts with a bounty of foods including avocados, Meyer lemons, apricots, jalapeno peppers and tomatoes.
"My parents always made time to cook, so it was always family time," he said. Having a large family -- of Scottish and Greek descent -- made the memories that much stronger.
"It was always like a big turkey and a big ham, and a lot of vegetables," he said. "And you know, from the moment we got there we were eating; until the moment we left, we were eating."
For Fraser and his sister, Jennifer, going out to eat was rare but treasured.
"I think the best was like the once a year after we got good grades, going to Red Lobster or Black Angus, or something like that," Fraser recalled. "I mean, those are the first formative food memories where it was like a special occasion to go out and eat."
On family camping trips, they would fish in the streams at Big Bear and steam the fish over a campfire.
"It creates a certain thing in your head -- a certain relationship with food, that it was alive, or it came from a place. It could be swimming in the stream but it is providing me with nourishment," he said. "It's not just expendable."
He may love simple, locally sourced foods, but he also admits to loving one junk food in particular.
"Cool Ranch Doritos," he said. "Totally."
For Fraser, food is also "entertainment."
"[Food] creates a community of people that gather, and it gives them a reason to talk, and it gives them a reason to share, and that's what growing up was always meaning to me," he said.
Fraser left his hometown at 17 to attend the University of California at San Diego, where he found a job working as a cook in a local restaurant.