Chef Chat, Part 2: How Trevor White of Morton's Grille Was Forced to Cook For Himself

This is the second part of a two-part Chef Chat feature. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.

This week, we're chatting with Trevor White, a regional chef with Landry's, whose job is to oversee 20 restaurants, among them Morton's The Steakhouse, The Oceanaire and the new Morton's Grille in The Woodlands. In Part 1 of our chef chat, White described his role in the Landry's organization and shared the process for developing the new menu at Morton's Grille. Today he talks about the events in his life that led him to become a chef.

EOW: How much time are you spending traveling now? What is a typical week like for you?

TW: I usually fly out on Monday. If I go to a cluster group -- let's say the L.A. area -- then I'll usually hit two or three restaurants that week, make a quick trip and go through. I've done weeks on end in a restaurant. We just opened in Biloxi, but it's usually Monday through Friday, and I usually fly home in the afternoon and try to spend as much time as possible with my family.

EOW: That must be really hard on your personal life. I'm sure it's harder than the regular daily grind of being a chef in the kitchen.

TW: People have asked me that before, and usually when you're in a restaurant and you're responsible for a single restaurant, I take ownership of it. I would work anywhere from 12 to 14 hours a day, sometimes five to six days a week with The Oceanaire. I'd leave the house around 8:30 to 9 o'clock in the morning, and wouldn't get home until probably 10 or 11 o'clock at night. I'm married. I have three kids -- a seven-year-old, a five-year-old and a two-and-half-year old -- so I actually see them more now, because traditionally I'm home Friday evening, and I get Friday evening, Saturday, Sunday, where before I'd only get one day with them.

EOW: Tell me how you got into the chef business.

TW: Oh gosh, years ago. I'm 43 now. I was a very picky eater as a kid. My mom was a great cook, but I didn't like half of the stuff she ate.

EOW: Such as...

TW: Asparagus, broccoli, vegetables.

EOW: Vegetables! So it's very appropriate that you're at a steak restaurant.

TW: I am definitely a steak-and-potatoes kind of guy. But her thing was, "If you're not going to eat what I'm cooking, then learn to cook for yourself." So I did. From about year 13 on.

EOW: What were you making?

TW: Mexican food. I was in Southern California! Tacos, quesadillas, refried beans, which I'm still not big on, but I like what I make. Most of my friends took shop, and I was in Home Ec. Plus, I found that that's where all the girls were. I was a smart kid. You could hang out with a bunch of guys, and I was hanging out with a bunch of girls. After high school I went to the military. My father's a retired sheriff, so I was with the security police, I worked for the Air Force. I guarded aircraft in upstate New York. I was in it for three years, and so I got out and went straight down to Florida, where I got a job in a restaurant in Florida with a buddy of mine as a bartender.

EOW: So you can make a mean drink.

TW: Yeah, I started out in front of the house. I used to manage restaurants in front of the house. Spent two years in Florida, then moved back to California, and got into the nightclub business in Santa Barbara. Long hours. Too much fun. I was a partner in it with one of my other buddies. We had about a 12,000-square-foot club called the Yucatan Cantina. We had live bands, a restaurant -- it was huge, and at that point, I didn't want to do it anymore. I was 26 at the time. And a buddy of mine, whom I'd opened up a brew pub with a couple of years before -- Derek Ashworth ... when you open up a restaurant, and you're not doing well, you find yourself in the kitchen a lot because you have to save on labor. So I got in the kitchen with him, and he taught me how to cook. And I'm still friends with him to this day, and I attribute a lot to him, because he kind of showed me the passion of food.

And so, when I wanted to get out of the business, I talked to my parents, and they said there's the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. And I said, "Well, I love cooking." So I chose at 26 to go a different direction, and went to culinary school. I got a great job with a company called Real Restaurants. They owned Beetlenut, Fox City Diner and Vic's in San Francisco. I started the Beetlenut concept, and worked for a great chef named Barney Brown, and started with him while I was in culinary school. I got into the sous chef program at that company. And since I had front-of-the-house experience, transitioning to the culinary side was a little easier. And I loved it. I loved the long hours, I loved the push through dinner service. Never a dull moment.

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