Bowles first began working in the dining industry as a bus boy and dishwasher at age 17. Initially, the high school dropout saw cooking as a way to simply earn a paycheck, but he soon realized that it could also be so much more.
"I realized that it was this gorgeous form of expression," he said. "It was art, and it was sensuous and romantic, and you work with your hands and ingredients and people and all these things that I really enjoyed," he said.
After completing his culinary education at Johnson and Wales University, Bowles began his career at the Dallas, Texas-based The Mansion on Turtle Creek, a five diamond/five-star resort. This was followed by a move to Chicago where he worked at the famed Charlie Trotters for three years alongside Chef Rick Tramonto and then later with Chef Gale Gand as the Chef de Cuisine of Tru.
Bowles said it was important for him to break free of the routine of working under other chefs. As a man on a mission, he'd set himself several ambitious goals with clear deadlines: sous chef by the time he turned 25, chef by 27, and by 30 - his own restaurant. "I think it's important to have a road map and goals and things set in front of you," he said. Of the rigorous goals he'd set for himself, Bowles said, "I always feel that it's absolutely all or nothing, or else I'm going to get complacent, and I never want that."
At 26, he was running the kitchen at Jackson House Inn & Restaurant in Woodstock, Vt. Not only did the opportunity allow him to do the cuisine that he'd always wanted, but it landed him national recognition as one of "Food & Wine" magazine's Best New Chefs of 2004.
"That was an incredible experience that opened a lot of doors," he said. The recognition helped him return to Chicago, where he became the Chef de Cuisine of Avenues at the Peninsula Hotel. During the four years leading the kitchen there, he received perfect four-star ratings from the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Magazine, and he became the nation's youngest four-star chef.
Despite his success, Bowles wasn't finished yet. By his own self-imposed deadline, he still hadn't opened his restaurant. "I was very focused on achieving that by 30," he said. "So from 28, 29, that was all I was trying to do: work, maintain the standard, raising the bar, and still at the same time, going home and working on this business plan."
Bowles signed the lease for his restaurant in December 2007. He turned 31 in January 2008. "I still considered that getting what I wanted," he said.
But if he hadn't succeeded, what then? Bowles has a myriad of backup plans, and said that he didn't just set such ambitious goals to freak himself out. "I love cooking, it's fun, I love dealing with people and the guests and the public, but I also realize that there's a finite amount of time on this planet… there's so much that you can do if want to cook, do music, writing, acting, whatever it is… to sit and do one thing as opposed to being the renaissance man, that's just not as fulfilling," he said.
Bowles said that he would have tried to further his passions for politics and leadership.