January's Featured Chef: Chef Anton Testino, Mulberry Street Café, Contestant on Chopped and Hell's Kitchen
Chef Anton will be presenting culinary demonstrations at the upcoming International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York, March 8-10, 2015.
How did you get started in the food industry?
My entire family has been in the food industry for over 50 years. Both of my parents were immigrants, so I first started working in family owned restaurants at the age of 6. But after my Father left us when I was young, it forced my mother to go on welfare and work around the clock, so I was left to cook and take care of my sister. Things got so bad, that at one point I was actually forced to shoplift small items (apples, tuna, rolls etc.) anything that I could conceal in my pockets, just so she and I could eat.
Most nights, I wouldn’t even know what I had taken until I returned home and had to piece together a meal – and from that, that’s where my creativity in the kitchen started to develop.
You are also very vocal about being a Professional Chef working with ADHD and Dyslexia. When was it first diagnosed and does it affect you at all in the Kitchen?
When I was in grade school I kept failing placement exams and I became so frustrated with the system, that I refused to take them again unless the questions were read aloud to me. Once that happened, I scored in the 90% percentile and it was determined that I had ADHD and Dyslexia. I’ve learned over the years that my learning disability is only as strong as I has allow it to be, so in the kitchen for example, I’ll print out color coded order tickets, so I can associate different colors with different courses. It’s little things like that – I approach it like just any other challenge I have to overcome and not something that I will ever let hold me back.
Despite your learning disability, you were eventually admitted into the Culinary Institute of America?
Yes, I was trained at the CIA and really did quite well on all of their “hands on” exams, but just like in grade school, when it came to the written portions, I continued to struggle to pass them and the way their curriculum is setup, when you don’t pass a class at the CIA, you have to pay for it again and again until you do. It just became too expensive and I could no longer afford the tuition, so I was forced to drop out. It’s a big regret of mine having to leave there the way that I did, but just recently I started an internship program with students from Morris County Technical School in NJ, where I do motivational speaking and work hands on with the culinary program, educating the future chefs of tomorrow. It’s something that I’m very proud to be a part of, and honored that the school invited me to do.
What do you think most people don’t realize goes on in the kitchen?
It’s incredibly stressful. It’s not like working in an office. You work nonstop and as a result, there is a lot of drug use and substance abuse in kitchens all across the country as a way to numb the pain. I saw it happen to my father firsthand and so that’s what’s kept me away from it, but I can understand how a lot of other Chefs fall victim to it. Most people don’t understand that professional chefs have to give up their life so that other people can enjoy their holidays. You’re working on Christmas Eve, Easter, Valentine’s Day and you need to sacrifice your own life to work in a kitchen to do it right.
So What’s Next for Celebrity Chef Anton Testino? Another TV appearance perhaps?
Well I have the international food show at the Javits Center in March to look forward to lol. But in addition to that, I just launched a new fast-casual franchise concept called Mulberry Street Café that serves Semolina Sandwiches, Soups, Salads, Risottos and more in a “depression era” themed setting. We are scheduled to open 5 locations, but it’s been getting a lot of buzz and great customer feedback, so there is talk of us opening more. Right now though I’m just taking it one store at a time and continue to do cooking demonstrations and promote my cookbook. As far as TV goes, after having competed on Hell’s Kitchen and Chopped, I think you’ll probably end up seeing me again on TV, but just in a different capacity, maybe as a judge – but I’m not ruling anything out.