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Combining Cultures and Passions: An Interview with Red Rooster Chef Rory Young

By Cyndi Amaya | June 7, 2012

Many people often say that the one thing that can unite different cultures, even if the location, language, or customs vastly differ, is food. Clearly, every person eats and many cultures tend to have similar strong connections with food, even if the ingredients are different.

Similarly, most individuals have numerous passions in life, but it’s rare to see a seamless combination of them or transition from one to another. One exception, of course, can be between different arts since the common thread between all forms of art is creativity.

One particular chef at Red Rooster, Rory Young, has learned just how to combine not only cultures but also passions in life. Coming from a different culture than he was raised in, and having experienced different careers, Rory has now learned how to adapt to different customs, cuisines, and arts. From advertising to pastry and from Central America to the Upper West Side, Chef Rory sat down with us to share his many passions…

Tell me about yourself. How did you get into the culinary industry?

I grew up in NY, but was born in Costa Rica. I was adopted and grew up in the Upper West Side. My parents have always been very supportive in everything that I’ve wanted to do. I started off working in advertising and went to school at Parson’s New School for design technology and I also went to Syracuse University.

I thought that I could stay in advertising for as long as I could, but the economy wasn’t doing so well so I wanted to find something that I could have a quick transition in and that I had an affection and passion towards. So that just led me to cooking. I loved cooking for my friends and my family and they just  kept encouraging me to go to culinary school and I’m glad they did since I took two years and dedicated them to attending school and getting a job right out of it. It was definitely a change of pace for me.

It’s funny, because I never used to cook a lot of Spanish food since I never grew up eating a lot of Spanish food and I grew up in a Jewish household, I still loved cooking a lot of Mexican food and Italian food and that’s what got me interested in pursuing cooking more. I didn’t necessarily want to get into pastry when I got into the restaurant business, but over time I felt like I adjusted to having a sweet tooth.

Tell me more about growing up. Are your parents the same nationality as you?

No, my mom is of Hungarian descent and my dad is Dutch. I was primarily raised Jewish. I’ve always felt connected to my Costa Rican roots no matter with what values and ways my parents have raised me. I feel very fortunate and I feel like I can be a person who’s very straightforward with letting people know who I am and where I’m coming from. I’m not shy about it because I’m very proud of where I came from.

I also traveled to Costa Rica, once with close family members and another time with close friends. Both those trips were lifetime experiences. It was really amazing to see how my life could’ve been so drastically different, in terms of experiences or finances. I could’ve been in a worse situation. I didn’t have to struggle growing up but not everything was given to me so easily. My parents taught me that you have to work hard for what you want and dedicate yourself and put in a lot of effort. So a lot of the values that they have shown me and taught me, I’ve really taken to heart.

I definitely think that my creative outlet comes from my Latin roots. Whether it’s drawing something on the computer, going outside, shooting a video and then editing it…I feel like I can always relate my Latin roots to that.

Tell me about your prior career.

I was working at Saatchi & Saatchi, who are really known for global advertising. I did TV production shoots, graphic design, etc. While I was there, I focused on a couple clients like Toyota, Bacardi, and CVS. I would do shoots for them, worked on layouts for their websites, come up with new ways to storyboard ideas to promote their products. I was also a part of being a payable clerk so I would get to see how much it would cost to get these projects done.

I’m in the process of combining both of my passions, cooking and media, now that I’ve had over a year of experience working in this restaurant. I’m looking to get into food media, I’d love to convey my ideas with the tools that I’ve learned in the kitchen as well as the tools I’ve learned working in media and advertising and just mesh the two together and see where that can take me.

It would be about combining my two passions and showing people how I see things and making it work.

What are some of the similarities and differences between the two careers?

Definitely working in a kitchen is a million times more time-consuming that it is working with computers. I feel like you have to learn how to micro-manage yourself a little more in the kitchen then when you’re working on a project.

Pastry is such a precise art that if you happen to make a mistake in a recipe, you pretty much have to start all over, you can’t just fix it like in savory. But you don’t have the luxury to just stop and start over since you have to time yourself for other aspects of a recipe to be finished all together.

Tell me about your travels and what you learned from traveling.

I’ve traveled to a lot of places. I’ve been all over Europe, Jamaica, Sweden, Curacao.

What I’ve learned from my travels, is that you have to understand other people, you can’t just put yourself into other people’s culture and expect things to be the way you were used to growing up. You have to adapt to other people’s customs and surroundings, be willing to listen, be willing to learn people’s different ways of life. And all of that is very rewarding because communicating in those ways where you get to adapt to somebody’s way of life, instead of doing something that’s so touristy, you learn more about the culture and the history and getting to see how other people live their lives.

Traveling makes you think more about a people and its culture and what brings people together in general.

In Costa Rica there’s a slower pace to life. People there are more jovial, naturally happy, and you can tell just by their expressions. I think I get that from inheritance, that upbeat and positive attitude.

Traveling to Costa Rica also made me want to be proactive with myself; to give back to my friends and spend more time with my family and to do something to better others. You certainly appreciate your opportunities more and it worked as a refreshing reminder to be thankful for what I do have.

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