Chef Chad Barrett shares his career journey, what it was like to be named the winner of “Guy’s Grocery Games” and how he’s handling fatherhood.
By Chad Barrett
Balancing survival and happiness is often pretty difficult for chefs who work long hours and late nights, but I am living proof that it can be done through hard work and dedication. The culinary world has made it seem like chefs are modern day rockstars, but behind the scenes are long hours, blood, sweat and burns. I have learned this all too well over the last 15 years in the industry.
Growing up in Florida and raised by a hardworking single mother (Connie Barrett), we had a small, but tight-knit family. We enjoyed the little things in life, such as family game night. But my true passion for cooking started watching my grandmother in the kitchen cook traditional Polish food and helping my mom with nightly dinners. My favorite became meatloaf, which is still my favorite cuisine to this day.
My introduction to the professional kitchen began at age 14 when I started washing dishes at a local country club where my mom served tables. After about two years, I moved into the cooking part of my career where I would take jobs to learn about different cuisines. I knew culinary school wasn’t in the budget for a single-parent, single-income household. I spent many years being a sponge, soaking in all the information thrown my way from experienced chefs.
In 2008, a great friend and mentor gave me a shot to run my own kitchen at the University of Michigan in Dearborn. I took the ball and ran with it. Becoming one of the youngest executive chefs in Michigan was a huge honor, and being in such a diverse area gave me the opportunity to propel my career to the next level in and outside of work.
In July 2016 my son Logan was stillborn, which was devastating to me and all those involved. I almost gave up on my climb up the culinary ladder, but I knew I had to keep pushing forward, and in honor of him, I wanted the whole world to know his name. So I decided to take my story to television and applied for every Food Network show that was casting chefs. I received a phone call from “Guy’s Grocery Games” after what seemed like forever.
I got past the first step of the casting process, and I could not have been more excited. I had a few more Skype interviews with producers, then I was told I was headed to California to film. I was so nervous and anxious it’s still all a blur, but I remember the continued motivation during filming to win in honor of Logan and make my family proud.
I will never forget Guy Fieri saying, “the winner is Chef Chad!” and my prize of $16,000. Finally my hard work had paid off. They didn’t show it on the final edits, but I broke down and cried out of joy. I remember calling my mom and telling her I won. She screamed with joy and began to cry. I knew she was always proud of me throughout my career, but to hear her reaction was worth just as much as the money.
I flew back home and put in my two-week notice. I knew I had to take the money, travel and work at some of the best restaurants in the country, including stops at two different Michelin-starred kitchens. Four months had come and gone, and it was time to start settling back into my own kitchen.
Fast forward almost a year later: I was blessed once again with a beautiful baby girl Lily. She was born healthy, and as soon as her eyes met mine I fell in love. She became my little world. I decided it was time to take a step back from being an executive chef and began consulting on troubled restaurants across Metro Detroit. This would allow me to spend time with Lily and still keep my foot in the kitchen door.
By word of mouth I was able to keep moving around and watch others succeed by passing on the skills and knowledge I have gained throughout my career to the next generation. Sometimes young cooks come up to me and say, “Hey, I hope I am like you one day.” My reply always remains the same. “Don’t be like me. I want you to exceed me and be better, because if you don’t, I failed as a mentor.” So I leave you with some advice go out there, set goals, achieve them and set more. Hard work pays off. It’s a proven fact over the ages.
This article is dedicated to my son Logan, Lily and anyone who has supported me along the way.
Chef Chad Barrett is a 31-year-old fine dining chef from Metro Detroit.