By Sarah Netter
Byron Talbott was 15 years old when he landed his first job—scooping ice cream at a Baskin Robbins.
Now married, with a 3-year-old and another child on the way, Talbott is an accomplished chef. He and his wife own a production company, and he has taken his food expertise to the internet, creating recipes and videos in his Thousand Oaks, California, home to share with the world.
He remembers his first culinary job fondly—it set the stage for his entire career. That first job, Talbott said, is where he saw all of the moving parts of a kitchen in action—from the dishwasher up to the head chef. He learned the dynamics of a kitchen (and what happens when you overcook the main dish.)
Talbott worked hard and rose through the ranks at his first job. Here’s what he learned:
Who were you when you got your first real job?
I was 19 and I was a year and a half into the culinary program. I got a job at a country club called North Ranch Country Club out here in Westlake Village.
That was my foot in the door with the hands-on culinary experience: washing dishes, prepping everything you could imagine, peeling onions and peeling potatoes. So, definitely where the rubber hits the road, but it was fun. I learned a lot and I actually progressed quite a bit at that job.
I was pretty focused at that time in life.
Did it make you feel like an adult?
It made me feel more sure of what I was doing in my career. I was still living with my mom, and I was figuring out that this was my career. I was basically moving out of the nest at that point. I was realizing very soon I’d have to start paying my rent.
What surprised you the most about starting your first real job?
I was glad that I put up with the rigorous environment of a real kitchen. I really liked doing it at culinary school; putting it into real life experience and actually being able to execute some of the things I was learning was sort of a shock and a surprise and a moment of happiness for me. I’m like, okay, finally I can actually study a book and put it to use and make money out of it. It’s a real thing I’m doing in life. That was an exciting time.
What did you learn about yourself?
I learned that I was really good under pressure. I could manage that. That was something that I proved to myself.
Describe your lowest point.
I had just been promoted to the hot line. The first day on the line, I was in charge of cooking the osso buco. We cooked maybe 25 or 30 osso buco a night. You braised it, and it gets really nice and juicy and tender. It takes a long time. It’s really easy to kind of forget those types of things. I put it on the back stove and I ended up completely torching it and of course this was the day after I got promoted. It was a day to prove myself. I just completely blew it. I was kicked off the line and totally embarrassed.
That was a hard day.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Probably learn how to communicate with people better, or try to understand other people’s positions a little bit more going into things, whether it’s an interview or it’s a first day on the job.
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Sarah Netter is a Yahoo Storyteller. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and ABC News.