From Washing Dishes to Running Restaurants

"It's a term that I don't personally like," he said, "because I think they put that label on people just because you've been in a magazine or the television once or twice -- the real celebrities, you know: when Julia Child was alive, Jacques Pepin, Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay." He added Rachel Ray to the list, as well.

Enjoying a Chef's Life

For Schlow, food is everything.

"A day doesn't go by where I don't read something about it, do something about it, think about a new dish -- and obviously, I'd like to eat every day, too," he said. "That's important. For me, it's my life. It's everything, and my vacations are centered around food.

"When you come to my house, there has to be food on the table, somehow," he added. "When you come to my restaurants, I don't want you to leave unless you've tasted something. Even if it's just a cookie, you're not walking out of here without tasting something."

Schlow is inspired by travel and competition with himself. He said he's very competitive with his brother, and when he's creating a dish, "I always think, would he appreciate this, would he like this? Or would he snub his nose at it and say, 'You're not as good as you think you are.'"

Schlow said he not only wants to live up to guests' expectations, he wants to surpass them.

"It's easy to say, but hard to do because you don't know -- everybody's tastes are different," he said. "That part is very interesting to me, at the same time. But as far as self-competition, that's the greatest motivator. I am my own worst enemy, I am my own worst critic. And I just keep pushing to do better."

That kind of work ethic was tiring at first, but it's become a way of life. Schlow feels great, despite not sleeping or exercising as much as he should.

"I eat pretty well, though," he said. "I don't eat junk. I don't eat fast food too often. Once in a while I'll cave in, but for the most part, I eat very healthy foods, and I'm on my feet all day. ... And I don't think I'm tired because I'm at a party all day long. The energy and the adrenaline that's running through the kitchen, through the front of the house, it's exciting."

Schlow said that each of his five restaurants -- the one in Connecticut and four in Boston, including another Alta Strada -- is unique, and he puts a little something different into each one.

"At Radius, my job is, it's a very personal kind of cooking that I do here, and what it is, is I'm attempting to cook the food that I would want if I were sitting in a four-star restaurant in the city of Boston," he said. "With Via Matta and Alta Strada, those being Italian restaurants, my job is not so much to create as it is to re-create."

Check Four-Letter Words at the Door

Being a chef is about 30 to 40 percent cooking, Schlow said, and the rest is good habits, a good lifestyle and making changes for the better.

"Kitchens are such a tough place, and growing up in New York City kitchens with cursing and kicking and punching -- and that's just dishwashers, forget about your chef yelling at you," Schlow said. "I wanted to create something that was different. I wanted my team to walk away and say that was done right, and that's the way I want to do it in my kitchen."

Hoping to make an impression on the people he works with, Schlow has instituted a no-cursing rule.

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