Johnny Iuzzini, now considered one of the most innovative pastry chefs in the country, was just 15 years old when he started on his culinary path.
He credits his father for instilling in him an "incredible work ethic."
"I come from a middle class family, where we didn't have a lot of money," Iuzzini said. "And my dad was like, 'Get a job, if you want money, if you want to do things, if you want to go out with your friends. Get money and go work for it.' He taught us that work ethic at an early age."
So, he got a job. Working in a kitchen at a local country club in New York's Catskill Mountains, Iuzzini was motivated by a typical teenager's set of priorities -- washing dishes with hopes of earning enough money to impress the ladies, yet still have some change left for himself. Unbeknownst to him, those youthful incentives changed his life forever.
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"I loved it so much, even though it was just washing dishes, it was like once in a while I got to peel carrots or I got to use a deli slicer," Iuzzini said. "I thought it was cool because the chefs -- the intensity of the kitchen was something I had never been exposed to."
Today, he's worked his way up to become the executive pastry chef at Jean Georges in New York City. And in December he published his first cookbok, "Dessert Fourplay." But the 34-year-old's path to success was a 20-year journey in the making.
A self-described latch-key kid, Iuzzini said he usually had to fend for himself at home.
"It was a lot of cookies and ice cream and TV dinner kind of things to get us through until dinnertime," he recalled. "When I was a kid I would come home from school, and my mom would buy the industrial size Famous Amos cookies or Chips Ahoy when I was lucky. And I would sit in front of the TV set with a glass of milk ... and I would dump cookies in there, smash them with my spoon and eat cookies and milk with a spoon watching 'The Dukes of Hazzard.' I loved it. I loved it."
But his sweet tooth didn't just end at cookies and milk. "Mint chocolate chip ice cream. She would buy the gallon-size containers. And I would make lines and I knew how much I was allowed to eat because she would only buy it every few days or once a week. So I would have to divide it up into seven days or six days. So I would make lines in there and I would only eat up to the line, and I would eat mint chocolate chip ice cream watching my cartoons or after-school specials."
His older and younger brothers, however, were immune to the cooking bug -- their relationship with food borders on what he remembers as bizarre.
Iuzzini said neither one of his brothers have come to any of his restaurants he's worked at over the years. His older brother "won't even eat food that touches itself. He's got meat and potatoes -- so he'll eat things one at a time in order. But he won't eat like a fork of steak and then potatoes and peas. He'll eat all his steak and then he'll eat all his potatoes. He's completely strange," Iuzzini said.
He describes his younger brother as "a bit of a redneck" who "likes what he likes."
Iuzzini says he'll eat anything, though there are two caveats: "For me, some things, like I just don't want to know what they are before I eat them. Like if you're going to start feeding me, like sexual organs of animals, or, like a monkey's brain or something -- I'll eat it. Just don't tell me what it is until after I've finished it."