Alumni - Bruce Kalman

Bruce Kalman


Degree Program: Culinary Arts

What factors led you to decide to attend Hudson County Community College?

I was accepted there as well as CIA [Culinary Institute of America], and I really liked the size of the classes, how strict the program was, and that it was incredibly hands-on, more so than writing reports, etc.


What is your favorite memory of the College, in or out of the classroom?

When we carved ice and tallow for the NYC restaurant show with Chef O’Malley and spent the night in the dining room in sleeping bags!


How did you become interested in Culinary Arts?

Aside from being a musician, it’s all I’ve ever done; since I was 13, I cooked in all types of restaurants. It was really helpful for me to start the program with five years of practical experience under my belt.


How did your time at HCCC prepare you for your career/ life now?

Aside from cooking technique, learning proper service, and management basics, it mostly taught me teamwork, strong work ethic, discipline (big time), and I feel very well rounded as a chef because of my time at HCCC. I really enjoyed all of the instructors, they told it like it is, they treated us, in a way, as they would treat commis [junior chefs] and chef de parties in their own restaurants, and I liked that structure.


What is a typical work day for you?

Now, owning multiple restaurants, plus a little TV, etc. My days are not really spent cooking anymore, or even operating the day-to-day within my restaurants. I spend the majority of my time mentoring and coaching the chefs, working on menu development, putting tighter systems in place, and a lot of time spent on promoting my brand, and the brand of the restaurants. This is how you get butts in seats. The PR brings people in, and the coached chef teams deliver the goods, which brings people back.


What has been the most memorable project you have worked on?

Opening Union [in Pasadena, Calif.] was definitely the most memorable project for me. I built it from scratch and to see it in so many stages, and finally where it is today, is really exciting. We are always trying to push the envelope with the food, but that requires so much else to be focused – cost controls, organizations, adherence to systems and recipes, and so many other moving parts. It’s like all the gears in a watch. If everything is clicking, it tells time really well; if not, you have to look deep inside to figure out which part is out of whack, and then get it fixed.


Who are your biggest inspirations that have impacted your work in some way?

David Burke and Paul Bartolotta mostly. Working with these two amazing chefs, who have such polar opposite styles of cooking, has helped push the boundaries (Burke), while maintaining classic integrity and simplicity (Bartolotta). I also thank Bravo/Brio Restaurant Group for mentoring me on how to run a sound business; this is something a lot of creative chefs don’t know how to do, and it’s vital to your success.


What advice would you give to recent HCCC graduates?

Work with a successful chef/organization and go in lips sealed, eyes and ears wide open. The issues we face today are people, people and people. You can’t run a successful restaurant without the right people, and to be successful in this industry takes time, patience and repetition. Everyone (me included) wants to jump from one thing to the next without actually mastering the first thing. You become a jack of all trades and a master of nothing that way. It’s a hard pill for most cooks to swallow, but there is so much to being a great cook and a great chef. Not just knowing how to build flavor!


What advice do you have for those students who are just starting their college careers?

Work in a restaurant while you’re going to school. This will do a few things: it will help you see things more clearly in the classroom, because you’ve kind of done a lot of what you’re being taught, which gives you the opportunity to take it to the next level. It also helps you decide quickly if this is the career for you. It’s an incredibly tough and unforgiving industry, but we do it because we love it. I especially love to make people happy – guests and staff.