All-Star Star Chef Jason McKinney on Shuffling Truffles, French Linen and ADD!
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Jason got his start in his home state of Georgia at the Sea Island Resort as Chef de Tournant before moving to Napa and working at The French Laundry. While working as Chef de Partie and poissonnier in Yountville, Chef McKinney earned the restaurant’s award for Chef of the Year. From a family of self-starters, Jason has always had the desire to start something of his own. Today we learn how an incredible chef recognized ADD in Jason and helped set his life onto an amazing path! This is one of the best stories, (not to mention success stories), we’ve heard in a while! So glad to have Jason with us today- enjoy!
***CORONA VIRUS EDITION***
In this episode Peter & Chef Jason McKinney discuss:
1:42 – Intro and welcome Jason
2:34 – On Jason’s background and when he was diagnosed, when did the ADD come to fruition and tell me how you use it to your advantage.
3:37 – On self-medicating, the importance of choosing correctly, as there are two -aspects of medication, a positive and a negative.
5:59 – On acknowledging how lucky you were to have such an amazing mentor and someone that recognizes your ADD/ADHD and supports and offers ways and solutions to succeed in what you want to do.
6:41 – On taking advice of keeping personal items (phone/keys/wallet) in same place, as a good starting point to develop habits that would help you succeed in conjunction with your job
7:44 – A chef with ADD walks into The French Laundry
8:09 – On the chef term, training stage – tell us what that is?
10:43 – On whether or not your plans worked out – did you get hired on the spot?
12:40 – On the restaurant world, and are the stories of drug use/access to drugs, a true statement for the places you’ve worked in? How did you cope with that?
14:13. – On any experiences you’ve had that might attribute your ADHD that might have looked negative at the time, but you’ve learned from.
17:08 – On the variety of knowledge and ideas in terms of things people can do in terms of utilizing their ADHD. What’s going on with you now?
21:02 – On taking the worst situations and making something positive out of it
21:36 – To do a cooking class with https://www.truffleshufflesf.com/collections/live-experiences we have a website called https://www.truffleshufflesf.com/and we do basically live classes on Sunday, and then we also do private events, so if anyone has a company out there and they’re looking for something to do with their team, we send all the ingredients. Join, then you get to cook with a Michelin trained chef, it’s always a lot of fun.
22:11 – Thank you so much Chef Jason McKinney! And thank YOU for subscribing, reviewing and listening. Your reviews are working! Even if you’ve reviewed us before, would you please write even a short one for this episode? Each review that you post helps to ensure that word will continue to spread, and that we will all be able to reach & help more people! You can always reach me via firstname.lastname@example.org or @petershankman on all of the socials. You can also find us at @FasterThanNormal on all of the socials. As always, leave us a comment below and please drop us a review on iTunes and of course, subscribe to the podcast if you haven’t already! As you know, the more reviews we get, the more people we can reach. Help us to show the world that ADHD is a gift, not a curse! Do you know of anyone you think should be on the FTN podcast? Shoot us a note, we’d love to hear!
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22:52 – Faster Than Normal Podcast info & credits
Hey guys, Peter Shankman welcome to another episode of Faster Than Normal. I’m glad you’re here. I want to introduce you today to Jason McKinney. Jason got his start in the home state of Georgia as a chef…. as the Chef do Tranauneant . I have no idea what that means, we’re going to find out… at the https://www.seaisland.com/?nck=8888337235&gclid=CjwKCAjw-qeFBhAsEiwA2G7Nl0oyBQTdvOMQfU8yT36oj0wZs7ELGmmqACS0eUVSb5gSWjTRlsnvPxoC5vUQAvD_BwE, but the thing moved to Napa and he worked at https://www.thomaskeller.com/tfl If you’ve ever been to French Laundry, I don’t need to tell you anymore. If you haven’t been to French Laundry, you kind of need to go to French Laundry. While he was working as a Chef de Partie, and I don’t even know what these words mean… it looks like poisoner…. I’m sure you weren’t a poisoner in Yountville, Chef McKinney earned the Restaurant’s Award for Chef of the Year. He’s a family of self-starters, massively ADHD, welcome Jason to Faster Than Normal… let’s talk food.
What’s up Peter, thank you so much for having me here today.
Good to have you, man. So tell me about your background and tell me about growing up. When were you diagnosed when the ADHD coming to fruition? Um, tell me that whole story and tell me how you use it to your advantage.
Absolutely, so. you know, my Dad was ADD and, you know, he started his own business. And so it didn’t really affect him as much as I think it affects a lot of people. Cause you know, he kind of did things on his own terms, but then in school there was always just very difficult for me to pay attention… for me to really get anything done, and so from a very young age I got diagnosed, but what was really kind of different about my diagnosis from what I hear from a lot of people is that, you know, God diagnosed, they prescribed the Adderall or Ritalin or whatever it was at the time, and I took it for about a year, and then at some point my parents were just like, listen, if you want to keep taking this, go for it. If not, no problem. And so like, as like a seven year old kid, they’d put the decision in my hands and I decided to not take the medicine and always looked for ways to kind of figure out how to self-medicate.
Tell me what it was like. Uh self-medicating because there are two aspects of medication. There’s the positive and the negative, and a lot of people find themselves going down the negative path without even realizing it, until it’s too late.
Well, so up until I was about 16 or 17. There was really no self-medicating. I just did horribly at school and I had a lot of.. kind of hobbies, so I don’t think my parents were too worried about it. But then when 2008 hit, my Dad literally lost his entire business. And so we went from, you know, a well-off family to truly completely broke, and so as a 16 year old kid, I got two jobs, I started going to alternative school and as soon as I got into alternative school, I started being able to work at my own pace. And I literally did all of high school in six months.
So once, once I was in a position where I could really just hyper-focus on things, I was able to get through school a lot faster, and then I went to https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/ and then I worked at Disney for a little bit. I actually made a fake college resume to get into the internship program at Disney.
Oh my God.
And so I was there, but I really wanted to cook, you know, I loved cooking and I really wasn’t cooking at Disney, so eventually I got this apprenticeship program and I was at https://www.seaisland.com/?nck=8888337235&gclid=CjwKCAjw-qeFBhAsEiwA2G7Nl0oyBQTdvOMQfU8yT36oj0wZs7ELGmmqACS0eUVSb5gSWjTRlsnvPxoC5vUQAvD_BwE and I was working at their nice, the nicest restaurant they had there, was a five-star restaurant and there was one night where the Chef asked me to clean the freezer, right? And in a really high-end restaurant, you’ll have some pretty expensive items in the freezer, the truffles or, the Wagyu items like that, the visually they have to ship in, you know, I was cleaning out the freezer and I literally only cleaned half of the freezer and I just got so excited and just stopped, got distracted, and stopped the job halfway through the chef came in the next day and was just pissed at me.
Oh my God. I can imagine.
And he, he took me out into the dining room, which is where the really bad roastings happen, and he was like, listen, you have ADD, you have ADD very badly and everyone in the world is going to tell you that you have a problem. He was like, I’m here to tell you today that if you can figure out a way to manage this, you can be unbelievably successful.
Wow. How lucky were you to have someone tell it to have someone to notice that and tell you that my God.
Unbelievably so, you know, and, and he, he looked at me dead in the eye and he was like, everytime I sit down, I put my phone right here. And then I was like, you know, what, where do I, where do I get started to really work on this? Cause this was the first time that I truly was like working on my passion or my career, or I needed to figure out a way to manage it. He was like, the first thing you do is every day you go home, you put your phone, keys and wallet in the same space, and until you do that, you don’t shut off. You do that. You turn it off, you focus on your next thing.
That’s really an interesting point. Cause that’s kind of like, that’s a, that’s a trigger. That’s almost like an off button for you, right? You do that, and you’ve switched environments.
Yeah, and it, it truly, it helped me out a lot. And then I went from there and I went out to, I flew from, from Georgia to California and I was fortunate enough to get a position at the French Laundry, I literally just showed up with a bottle of wine that said “Relentless” and asked for an opportunity to work hard.. and they gave it to me.
Wow. and this was in California…French Laundry?
French Laundry,,, yeah.
You show up at the French Laundry with a bottle of wine that said “Relentless” and said I want to work for you, and they gave you a job?
I had an, I had a resume done with golden bossed letters, and then I had a backup plan. Actually, my backup plan was that if they threw me out of the restaurant, because I literally just basically walked into the restaurant in the middle of service, I had a, a life-sized version of my resume that I was gonna torpedo into the restaurant, and I figured if I left that there, somebody would look at it.
That is unbelievable. And, and, and in the middle of a service, they, they, they didn’t kick you out. Walk us through exactly. Walk us through exactly what happened.
Yeah. Flew out there. Uh, I was in California for about 11 days. I had seven stagiaires lined up, which are like what you do when you’re trying to get a position at a restaurant. And I was on my second day in California.
What is… what is a stagiaire/stage,? Tell us….
A stagiaire/stage is basically an interview, but it’s a working interview. So you go stagiaire/stage in the kitchen and you can tell a lot from a chef on whether they’ll be successful or not. It’s truly just from how they walk and work in a kitchen. And so I literally woke up one day and was like, if I don’t drive up to the French Laundry, I was in San Francisco at the time, if I don’t drive up there, and try to get a job at this, I’m going to regret this for the rest of my life. And…. drove all the way up to Napa got to Yountville, which is where the French Laundry is and turned onto Washington street and was driving down the street, and. If you’ve never been there before every building, there’s a couple of buildings that looked like they could be the French Laundry, and I got so nervous. I finally saw the restaurant and I literally just kept driving. I was so nervous. I couldn’t do anything. And I kept driving and I, I got to the little store at the end of the road and I walked inside. I’m from Georgia, and so when I got inside that there’s all this wine, right? And I’ve truly never seen this much wine in it, such a little store before, so I popped over and I was just looking at it and I was like, I was looking at all of this one bottle, just poking out, and there was a https://www.wineaccess.com/catalog/2017-shafer-vineyards-relentless-napa-valley_e90dfce7-146e-42cf-a893-81eace39129d/?rtype=s&chan=cpc&src=google&cmp=&grp=&ver=522290450879&kw=&gclid=Cj0KCQjwna2FBhDPARIsACAEc_UqwcZWX-Ml3IevgXqdOqc4UNVUViKyT7n6QJmkng83aLeAiZ5juIcaAhO6EALw_wcB and it was $75. And I had about $106 in the bank and I still have to be in California for five more days. And I, I was like it’s now or never. And I, I bought the bottle of wine, I drove back to the restaurant and Plan A was walk in, and ask to talk to the Chef. Plan B was, they kick me out. And then I, I had brought this life-size version of my resume just in case, you know? And so, I had the bottle of wine, I’m in a full suit, I got my resume, I walk in, I opened the door to the French Laundry and I, a server walks past me, and my gaze… follows her, and then when she walks away, the Chef de Cuisine, David Braeden is standing right there and something in my head was like, Jason, you have to say something, otherwise you just broken, entered into the French Laundry, and I was like, yeah, and I was like, “Chef, may I request a moment of your time?” and he looks at me, he looks at the wine, he looks at the resume in my hand, he looks at my suit and I think he was just kind of curious, you know, he’s like, “absolutely, follow me this way.” And I was like…
What? And we sat and chatted, and what was crazy is that the chef that trained the chef that that helped me with my ADD, originally actually trained the Chef de Cuisine in the French Laundry too, and I didn’t know that at the time.
Oh, wow. That’s an incredible story. And, and so you hired you on the spot or how did that work?
Basically, he said, come, come back Sunday at noon to the gold door in the back, and to be honest, I thought I was getting framed, but then I came back and there, the door to the kitchen at the French Laundry is polished gold, and I stagiaired/staged for the day and an official stagiaire/stage, and then at the end of the day, he offered me a position and I went back to Georgia. I took on two more jobs. I worked, you know, about 110 hours a week to save up the money, to move to California, and then moved out to California, spent, um, four years at the French Laundry. I got named the Core Award winner, which is like the chef of the year for the restaurant ….the whole restaurant group and that was a massive honor. And while I worked there, it was kind of the next phase of like, all right, either you can medicate, or you can figure out a way to self-medicate, and so for the four years I worked there, I literally, I listened to your book, right? I would ride my bike and I started doing like a hundred mile century rides, and then every Wednesday I literally went to a Zen temple and I would, Thursday was my day off, so I would meditate Thursday morning and then come back to the restaurant and the whole time I had this goal of not necessarily like rising to the top of the restaurant, but just being the best chef that I could. And I always wanted to be like a, I always wanted to be a chef that was calm, riight? That that could take on anything that was calm, and before the French Laundry, I wasn’t that chef. I was like this sporadic chef when I first got there, the porters had a nickname for me and it was toques , which means like, like I literally just got like electrocuted. and at the end of it, I finally with some very strong mentorship from the people there. I finally achieved my goal…. goal of becoming a really calm chef and I was… I became proud of who I was as a chef and I never medicated the entire time I was there.
That is an incredible story. I love that. Now here’s an interesting question. I’ve read a lot. I have a lot of friends who worked in restaurants and I’ve read a lot about restaurants and I’ve been told that, uh, in the kitchen of the restaurant, it is basically almost every restaurant in the world. Probably not so much French Laundry, but almost every restaurant in the world, there’s a drug problem there, right? In that it is very easy to get your hands on, uh, pretty much anything you want, and I would think that for someone, with ADHD, who is, uh, you know, we’re sort of behind the eight ball to begin with, did you ever experience that at any of the places you worked and, and, and was the temptation ever there to, you know, to be able to sort of clear your brain go faster or whatever, and how did you, how did you deal with a place where, you know, the foods there, the alcohol…
You know, the French Laundry and honestly, Sea Island does a very good job at this, but the, the French Laundry truly operates at such a high level that you can’t, there’s no abuse there. You have to be so on point it’s like the, um, you know, it’s like truly like being like a Navy seal. And so my Dad actually was a drug addict that never recovered, and so I… oh, wow, he, he dealt with it very bad you know, it started as a….you know, cocaine and then into a meth addiction, and so I watched my Dad never recover from that, and so I, I always just completely stayed away from it
That must’ve been…. I can imagine how that would just completely be a wake up call to you to, to, to be safe and to be aware. 14:13 Tell me about…. so you, obviously, the cleaning of the, of the freezer was a bad experience. Tell me about some other experiences that you might attribute your ADHD that might have looked negative at the time, but you’ve learned from.
Well, you know, Peter, I’d love to tell you what I’m doing now. I think you’ll be really proud.
We got plenty of time. So, so, so give us one story and then tell us what you’re doing now.
Nice, and so at the, what I, what I truly learned through practicing Zen and at the restaurant and the chef put me on a station called being there’s a fish butchering station right? And the French Laundry is a really interesting restaurant. I mean, literally you can, one person can work, you know, like 15, 16 hours a day, five days a week to process all the fish, right? Cause they get so much lobsters, caviar, shellfish. And so I got put on that station and it gave me an opportunity and I was there. I was on the station for two years. Um, and. I, I learned how to utilize my ADD as a superpower by micro focusing on things like super focusing on it, but then writing down the key items in that moment to not forget, and then putting that somewhere where I could go back to. So almost like a great example is we went from being in the French Laundry kitchen and they did this massive renovation, and during the massive renovation, we’re working out of these shipping containers and there’s about a month period where I actually ended up being the fish butcher and in charge of all the AM… which is like all the prep crew. So every new person in the restaurant and, that was a big accomplishment and achievement on my end that I was always really proud of. And this is actually what led to me getting the Core Award, and I would go in in the morning, I’ll get all the fish butcher stuff going, right? And I really learned to… take a project directly to the whole. Never pretend like, Oh, I’ll get the last five minutes of that project. I’ll do it in a couple of days. Cause I knew I would forget. I would 100%, 100% forget, so I learned to just have that discipline to get a box of fis in, break the fish down all the way, then put it in the fridge. Put a label on it. It’s done. And then when I got put in charge of the —??—what I started doing. At first, I would tell three or four people to do the same thing, and then I would have everyone just running in circles, you know? And then I learned that if I broke it out, literally by the hour, right. And almost down to the minute I could take a list and literally put deliveries coming in at this time, dinner is at this time and I would write everyone’s name on it and I’ll give everyone direct projects where I could do my projects and then I could manage the entire brigade. And for a long time, we had trouble getting the commis out before 5:00 PM. And then after I set that system up, literally the commis always finished at 5pm, and that’s still the same system that they utilize today at the French Laundry.
That’s an awesome story. I love that we’re getting, so this is probably one of the most powerful interviews I’ve done in a while in terms of just the amount of, of, uh, con you know, um, and the knowledge that we’re getting in terms of what people can do to, to utilize their ADHD. Tell us what you’re doing now.
So I left the French Laundry and I had a goal of, you know, rising to the top, but truly just becoming the best chef that I knew I could. And so The French Laundry is the kind of place where you kind of go in, you, you learn as much as you can. I love Chef Keller and he gave me an awesome opportunity. Have to have a reason, gave me an awesome opportunity, but I wanted to create something of my own and watching my Dad in business, I knew how much kind of power there was to being in business, right? And so you take any restaurant in the world, no matter how high, how hard you worked there and how far you work up the chain. But then you leave that restaurant, you’re literally at ground zero. When you start a business, you’ll have equity that could be worth something and an athletic career, you have your kind of your, what you’re known for, but in a, in a restaurant, truly like you leave and you either have to go get all this money to open up a restaurant. And then by the time you open it, you don’t own the restaurant anymore, or you go run someone else’s restaurant. And so watching my Dad build his own business, I found it very peculiar, you know? And so I was like, what if we start a business instead of a restaurant? What if we somehow figure out how to start a business instead of a restaurant, becomes successful than they are, and then use that money for one day, start a restaurant, and so I left the restaurant, I took a job working for a guy named Mitch Rouse, who I was on his ranch in Wyoming when we talked and I was, I was still trying to put the pieces together and what exactly I was going to do. And I ultimately decided to start a business called https://www.truffleshufflesf.com/collections/live-experiences . And so our goal was to help chefs source sustainable truffles. And so we started the business. I took all the money we had saved up, which came out to literally 10,000 euros and I got it out in cash, strapped it to my buddy’s chefs and sent him to Italy, and had him start sourcing truffles and send them back to me. and then I would literally sell the truffles. And so I started it with my wife, Sarah, and then Tyler, who I worked with at the French Laundry, and we started basically the business hustling truffles to teach ourselves business, and we had this idea that if we sold like 500 pounds of truffles, right? I don’t know if you’ve ever sat down and done like the preliminary forecast on a business. And you’re like, wow, this has been a, we’re going to be loaded, and so we started out like that and starting 2018, 2019, we actually landed a deal with https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/ for our product line, and we’re getting we’re ramping up for this and all of a sudden COVID hits. And so when COVID hits, we had 20 pounds of fresh truffles on hand, we had our entire 1000 square foot apartment was stacked floor to ceiling with cases upon cases of truffle salt and truffle, honey that we had made by hand. If we didn’t do something, we’re going to go, we’re going to literally go out of business within like four or five days. And so we launched a virtual cooking class,,, of black truffle risotto. And the first one we did when, uh,—?— within three hours, we completely sold out. And then by the time we did that class, we had thousands of people on. Watching us. And at this time we truly are e-commerce business. We only had like 40 customers and we did this live cooking class where we sent everyone all the ingredients, including the truffles, and we got to see people at home cooking together and in the past, since then, and since that day, that was in March and in the past 12 months, we’ve actually been able to go from a team of six individuals to now we’re a team of 50. We’re on track this year to do 15million and we actually, three weeks ago, got a deal with https://markcubancompanies.com/ on https://abc.com/shows/shark-tank
Spectacular man. That is amazing. And you know, it’s funny you took, uh, probably the worst possible time, and you turned it into something that really is a highlight of ADHD. That’s awesome. And good for you. What a great story. Tell us, um, I’m sorry.
I had to give you a shout out. Everyone that works with me, I give them a copy, of um, of Faster Than Normal, and I’m like, this will help you understand what is going on in my brain.
That makes my day. That’s awesome. Thank you, man. That’s great. Tell me this. How can people, how can people find you? Where can they go?
Uh, to do a cooking class with https://www.truffleshufflesf.com/collections/live-experiences we have a website called https://www.truffleshufflesf.com/and we do basically live classes on Sunday, and then we also do private events, so if anyone has a…. a dope company out there and they’re looking for something to do with their team, we send all the ingredients. Join, then you get to cook with a Michelin trained chef,, it’s alot,and it’s always a lot of fun. And we’d love to do one with you and your team and your company. And as a gift for me, Peter, just be an honor.
Oh, wow consider it done, man, that goes without saying. Guys, this was an awesome interview. I’d love to have you back Jason, at some point in a few months, see how you guys are doing, how about that?
Absolutely, we’d totally love that.
Cool… cool… guys, you’re listening to Faster Than Normal. I appreciate it as always. If you liked what you heard, drop us a review. If you have anyone as cool as Jason, let us know, we’d love to have them on the show. My email is https://www.shankman.com/ and don’t forget, you can sponsor an episode of Faster Than Normal. All you have to do is go to the link below that our wonderful producer, Steven Byrom will put in the show notes and you can sponsor using cryptocurrency even… you can sponsor an episode of Faster Than Normal. So we will see you next week. Thank you all for listening, thank you Jason for being here, guys, take care, stay safe. ADHD is a gift, not a curse… so always, always remember that.
Credits: You’ve been listening to the Faster Than Normal podcast. We’re available on iTunes, Stitcher and Google play and of course at www.FasterThanNormal.com I’m your host, Peter Shankman and you can find me at petershankman.com and @petershankman on all of the socials. If you like what you’ve heard, why not head over to your favorite podcast platform of choice and leave us a review, come more people who leave positive reviews, the more the podcast has shown, and the more people we can help understand that ADHD is a gift, not a curse. Opening and closing themes were composed and produced by Steven Byrom who also produces this podcast, and the opening introduction was recorded by Bernie Wagenblast. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next week.