From Washing Dishes to Running Restaurants

"I was lucky enough to work my way up from dishwasher to bus boy to host," he said. "They would let me tend bar once in a while on a slow night and, really, I stayed there all through high school. And I got to see the man who owned that restaurant recently and it was just such a privilege. He came in and saw the restaurants I'm involved in now and he was really proud, and it made me proud, as well."

As children, Schlow and his siblings were encouraged by their mother to sample "anything and everything" -- from food to conversation. Schlow said his mother told him that all he ate, up until he was five years old, was hot dogs and cheese, but after that, he became very adventurous.

"She would bring out all kinds of stuff, and she was very cutting edge about what she was wanting to make at home," he said. "And the dinner table was very much the center part of my childhood. All throughout my childhood and my teen years ... we ate dinner together as a family.

"The person I became as a man, good or bad, politics, religion, the ability to argue, patience and perseverance -- all those things, you know, really stem from my parents' kitchen table," he added.

His mother introduced the family to Szechuan and Indian food, and her enthusiasm led all the children to enjoy cooking, as well, Schlow said.

Separating Fantasy From Reality

While the actual experience of running a restaurant was quite different from a 10-year-old's drawings, Schlow said his life has become more amazing than he could have imagined.

"The fantasy of -- you know, as a 10-year-old -- of this restaurant, didn't include things like broken glasses, complaints, long, long hours," he said. "I just had this feeling of, 'Oh, I'll go in and whip up a soufflé and pour a glass of champagne, maybe.'

"In real life, it's a "very, very hard, grueling business," Schlow said. "But for me, it doesn't feel like work."

And it's not just the guests Schlow wants to impress. It's his goal to make the restaurants a fun and enduring experience for both customers and staff. As a result, the staff at Schlow's restaurants have track records of staying for a long time.

With more and more chefs trying to make it in the celebrity arena, Schlow said there are two very different types of chefs.

"There are the ones that are going out and marketing and pushing in front of the camera," he said. "And they also, many of them, still do cook and do a great job of that.

"And then there's still many, many instances where you have chefs of one restaurant, one singular restaurant, and they are still all about cooking in their one, particular place," he said. "And hopefully, good food and good service gets people coming back more and more."

The continuing popularity of the Food Network and Bravo and cooking shows, in general, has helped consumers become more aware of good food. And that, Schlow said, is leading Americans to finally take food seriously.

"You know, we're a fairly young country. In Spain and Italy and France and Germany, food is taken so seriously," he said. "There, chefs are really stars and have weekly shows. And we're just starting to catch up."

Schlow said he's not sure what the catalyst was that kick-started Americans' obsession with celebrity cooking, but it's only happened in the last 15 to 20 years. Even now, there's only a handful of real celebrity chefs.

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