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Eater Young Guns Semifinalists Talk Career-Defining Moments

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On mentors, a-ha moments, and Saturday morning cooking shows.

Sister Pie, Detroit
Sister Pie, Detroit
Michelle and Chris Gerard

Earlier this month, Eater announced the 50 Young Guns semifinalists, a group of promising up-and-comers selected from hundreds of nominees. We surveyed each and every one of them, asking about their experiences, the challenges they've faced, and what they hope to accomplish in the future. We're publishing a selection of their answers over the next month, and the winners will be announced on June 8.

This week, Eater asked the semifinalists to share the moment they realized they should become a chef, sommelier, or GM. When did they know the industry was right for them?

When I successfully made my first loaf of bread from beginning to end. The feeling of having created something from nothing, something complex from something so elemental, was and still is addicting to this day.
— Bryan Baker, head baker, The Eveleigh, Los Angeles

In Savannah, GA: the mecca of hospitality. That Southern charm won me over and I realized that I could do what I love and make a living.
— Erica Catubig, sommelier/assistant wine buyer, Loulay, Seattle

There was no big 'a-ha' moment for me

I don't think there was any big "a-ha!" moment for me. I was living in Brooklyn after college, nannying and working at a juice bar, when I started filming a silly cooking show out of my apartment. From there, I got into the professional side of things and just kept moving forward. I'm still going, and I'm pretty darn happy about it.
—  Lisa Ludwinski, owner/head baker, Sister Pie, Detroit

I was very young (around four or five years old) making pancakes with my grandfather. It was the first thing I ever cooked. I was hooked from that moment on. I began watching the cooking shows that came in after the morning cartoons were over....
— Joey Ward, executive chef, Gunshow, Atlanta

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Chris Hathcock of Gan Shan Station in Asheville; Paolo Bendez'u of Blue Plate Oysterette in LA.

After graduating college, I had a decision to make: follow my degree in forestry or stick with what I had been doing throughout college, cooking. I decided to move to Atlanta to work at Empire State South. About midway through my tenure there I think I finally started to get it and fell back in love with what I was doing. Being surrounded by a crew of badass cooks who all pushed each other was truly inspiring, and I think everyone who was there in that moment in time can say it was really something special.
— Christopher Hathcock, executive chef, Gan Shan Station, Asheville

I knew when I started delving into spirits and wine about five years ago in Austin. I never quite knew where in the industry I belonged and because of that, never considered it as a career. When I got behind a bar and started tasting wine, I knew this was the part of the industry I wanted to grow in.
— Rachel DelRocco, beverage director, Qui, Austin

It was gradually over the years... I went to culinary school after falling in love with cooking on a line. After that I could never get away from it. I bartended while attending culinary school — and fell in love with that side of it as well.
— Micah Melton, beverage director, The Aviary, Chicago

In March 2009, I was heading back to work in Montana after taking a quick break to help close the restaurant for the night when I saw my boss prepping in the kitchen on her day off. I asked her why she was working, and she said, "cooking is about bringing joy and happiness to people around the table and nurturing them with food, and I don't care if I have to roast prime rib on my day off." That's when I decided that I wanted to be a chef. Being a chef is not about working crazy long hours or following recipes, it's about creating experiences through food. The reward is to see people enjoy what you've created for them.
— Paolo Bendez'u, executive chef, Blue Plate Oysterette, Los Angeles

She said, 'I don't care if I have to roast prime rib on my day off'

I never really looked at opening the brewery as a career decision. It was more of a passion and a way for me to do something that I love doing while making a little bit of money.
— Luis Brignoni, founder/president, Wynwood Brewing Company, Miami

About 4 years ago, I sold all my stuff and left New Orleans to travel in Central America. I had decided I was sick of the service industry and wanted to see what else I could do with my life. I completed an English Teaching Certification Course in Costa Rica. After I was gone (from New Orleans) for about six months, I was applying for teaching jobs all over the world. However, I kept finding myself thinking about New Orleans, thinking about the service industry. I'd find myself at grocery stores in Panama looking at their wine selections to try and figure out the best quality buy. Ultimately, I decided that there was no point in continuing to travel if all I wanted was to go back to New Orleans and work in hospitality. I found a home at Galatoire's and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
— Gabrielle Waxman, wine director, Galatoire's Restaurant, New Orleans

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