What a child learns at home or sees in action in the immediate surroundings can lead to starting a business or lifelong career.
My interviews with entrepreneurs have shown me that many business owners had the first exposure to their future endeavor during childhood.
Cooking in the Family
Chef Conrad Gallagher owns a catering company in Orange County, California that provides a four-star experience and his chef’s career started in his mother’s kitchen, cooking alongside her and his grandmother in his native rural Ireland.
The owner of Vanity Catering and Events and a Michelin-starred chef, Conrad told me his dad was a friend with a general manager of a hotel in his town. The family influence and connections started him on the path to becoming a chef at a young age.
“My interest [in cooking] peaked during a festival weekend when the hotel was quite busy and I was in the kitchen washing dishes and watching the chefs.”
A Young Chef
During another job at the age of 12 where he was washing dishes on a Sunday morning, the chef didn’t show up and Conrad was told to cook the items on the breakfast menu. He expanded to preparing starters and desserts and discovered confidence in his abilities.
He was needed during harvest weeks when he and his mother would cook for up to 30 people.
“Many kids would develop their interests in sports but I didn’t have any and I had even less interest in farming so I would spend my days cooking in the kitchen.”
A Prized Mentor
He worked with a few chefs in Ireland, including Tim O’Sullivan whom Conrad refers to as one of the greatest chefs at the time. He helped enter Conrad in different cooking competitions that he began to win and then he traveled to France and Italy to expand his horizons.
Conrad says eventually becoming an entrepreneur was out of necessity so he cold set the style of service and price points. “To do what I really wanted to do and cook the types of meals I envisioned meant I had to become an entrepreneur.”
During his work in Ireland, he owned Peacock Alley and faced the challenge of overcoming the agricultural Mad Cow Disease. Local diners would not have been enough to keep operating and British businessmen bringing in their customers helped keep the restaurant afloat.
The Urge to Travel
He says he began chasing Michelin stars and in his late 20s, he realized he wanted to travel and have new experiences. Being needed at lunch and dinner every single day tied him to the kitchen along with various leases and the demands of restaurant operations.
He has catered events for celebrities like Pierce Brosnan and Oprah Winfrey and operated internationally acclaimed restaurants in New York City, Dublin, and Capetown, South Africa.
Dropping big names and overseeing high-pressure kitchens taught Conrad valuable lessons. “I learned a lot about life and corporate structure, but I also began to lose touch with customers as I became removed from food and the reason why I chose the career.”
A Return to His Culinary Roots
He saw catering for private parties and corporate events as a return to return to his roots and fill a void in Orange County catering.
“At the end of the day, when you take away the bells and whistles, I’m like an actor who may have gone to Hollywood and all the time he just wants to get back home and do a play. I’m quite happy cooking for a small group of people or using my skills for a large private party or corporate event.”
Satisfaction in Serving
“What I love about the catering is it’s a challenge every single day. I offer an experience that’s like dining in a fine restaurant. Yet, I also don’t believe good food has to be expensive.”
He says for a bride-to-be or a corporate team he can offer a suggested menu and he’ll use his contacts to get the best ingredients for an event’s budget. “I may be able to get prices on items like fresh scallops, a range of sustainable seafood, or other food for 30 percent less than what may be found elsewhere.”
He likes not being restricted to a specific schedule and has settled with his family in the Orange County town of Yorba Linda that he finds a convenient base for operating.
Mondays are his day off, Tuesdays are when he plans his business and thinks creatively through upcoming events, and he schedules most serving events on Wednesdays through the weekend.
The skills Conrad learned to help his family as a child have taken him around the world and a life of adventure. Though the culture of Orange County, California has little in common with his childhood Ireland, the satisfaction gained by providing a memorable meal is a universal pleasure.
Conrad’s website has more on his background.