Old Mill Inn forgoes head chef for 2016, hires four local student cooks instead
The Old Mill Inn in Mattituck has new faces running its kitchen this season — and they’re probably a lot younger than you’re expecting.
Since the beginning of the summer season, four student cooks, ages 18-22, have been working in the kitchen at the restaurant in place of a head chef.
“At the beginning of the season, we were thinking of who to hire as a head chef and we thought, ‘why don’t we just…not? Why don’t we try something new?’” owner Bia Lowe said. “That’s when we came up with this idea.”
The students are getting the full chef experience, working in each station of the kitchen and learning how to prepare every meal on the restaurant’s menu. Though they come from a variety of culinary backgrounds, they work together as a team each night to create the dishes the Old Mill Inn is famous for.
“People have always said Old Mill Inn is a good place to go for your first bussing job,” owner Bia Lowe said. “This is a whole extra level to that. I’d like for this place to get a reputation for funneling young, local talent, for these kids to get a foot in the door.”
At the beginning of the season, Lowe contacted local schools, including high schools and Suffolk County Community College’s culinary school. She likes going through the schools, she says, because there is a fresh group each year.
Alexandria Lopez, manager at the restaurant, is the students’ guiding hand. She’s been in the restaurant business her entire working career, and knows what it takes to make it as a young person breaking into the industry.
“They come in, they set themselves up for the night prepping food and owning their stations,” Lopez explained. “And then they’re cooking from the minute they get in to the minute we close. They close, they clean up, they go home and then they come back and do it all again.”
Lopez joked that “if the kids could work 80 hours a week, they would.”
The restaurant has had nothing but good reviews from the few guests they’ve informed about their new kitchen staff.
“These students not jaded by the business, they don’t have bad habits,” Lopez said. “And best of all they’re good people, they’re good kids and they have great work ethic.”
Meet the staff
“I had just gotten into the restaurant industry recently as a busboy… I worked that job for three months and then they offered me this job, and I took it,” Jair Pereyda, 20, of Holbrook said. “It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Pereyda is a student at the culinary school, which he says is an entirely different experience than working in a professional kitchen. “In school, they show you how to do something. Here, you do it because it has to get done.”
“It’s like trying to learn a new language, to me. School is like looking at the words of a song, the lyrics, whereas this is like having the conversation,” Pereyda said.
“I used to work at Wendy’s, and it’s a totally different experience in this kitchen. The level of communication we have — we work as a team,” said student Ashely Becker. “And learning from Alex is amazing, she’s the best boss I’ve ever gotten to have. She’s only 24 — I want to be that successful at that age.”
Becker, 20, of Mount Sinai, is training to be a pastry chef at Suffolk’s culinary school. She finds her experience at the Old Mill Inn priceless.“At school, I went right into baking. You choose one track and you don’t explore. Here, I’m learning the cooking side, which I’m surprised to say I really love as a baking student.”
Sharrise Martin, 18, is a Riverhead High School student who heard about the job opportunity through her teacher. She works salads, and also helps sauté and fry.
“Cooking is in my family,” she said, which is what drew her to the job. “My favorite dish is the Angry Mussels, which is mussels in a marinara and roasted red pepper sauce. It’s fun to cook and to eat.”
Although she’s enjoying the restaurant experience, Martin plans on studying chemistry after she graduates.
Victoria Perez, 22, is a lifelong Mattituck resident and Lopez’s “protégé.”
“I was never really a cook, and didn’t even know about this place,” Perez said. “I heard about the job in the newspaper and thought ‘why not?’”
Perez hopes to eventually be a wedding/event planner, something that she says learning to run a restaurant is helping her with. Lopez is sure to train her on the ins and outs of both the business and cooking side of life in a restaurant, something which Lopez says Perez is a natural at.
“She’s getting more involved in inventory, prep, setting the place up, making sure everything up to health codes,” Lopez explained. “The business aspect of it, cutting down costs, all that stuff.”
“You have to have a knowledge base in order to get into this sort of career,” Perez said. “You gotta start somewhere, and here I am.”
Victoria Perez, 22, is Lopez’s “protégé” and is learning the business side of running a restaurant in hopes that it will help her further her career as an event planner. Photo: Courtney Blasl.
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