JON SHOOK & VINNY DOTOLO : CHEFS & RESTAURANTEURS
This is “UNTITLED”: A series profiling American artists and creatives to share their stories.
Jon: I started as a dishwasher, and then I went to culinary school. Vinny, I believe, started the exact same way, but at different points in our lives in different parts of Florida. We met in Culinary School after we both had dabbled in the industry in different ways and developed a friendship. I think that was kind of the start of it. It was the breaking point, you know, between each other. We gave each other the drive and the want to push each other. That really helped propel us to where we're at currently.
Vinny: I grew up around people who cooked, but nobody was in the industry. There are no restaurants in the family, but food was always around, and my family always went out to eat on the weekends. It was a mix between eating Chinese food and pizza and homemade pasta that my dad would make. My dad was into cooking. He’d always make our birthday cakes for us, too. Food was around, but it was never pushed on us and it definitely wasn’t high level. It wasn’t like we were eating truffles and caviar and foie gras.
I got into the idea of cooking when food TV became a thing. Cooking as a profession seemed interesting. I found myself starting to cook after school or help my dad. When I was sixteen, I worked as a fry cook, dishwasher and delivery driver for a barbecue place––it was like three jobs in one. I would wash dishes then run the food out to my car. It was old school where I’d have to look at a map and figure out where an address was. I would clean out the smoker and watch them make barbecue sauce. It was a grind at the time, and I loved it. Then, I got a job in the cheese department of a place kind of like a Whole Foods. After that, I went to culinary school.
Jon: It’s a combination. When we’re thinking about projects, we spend a lot of time streamlining what we know, and how to source staff that can learn, understand, retain information and execute it day in and day out. We spend a lot of time on that. We’re fortunate to have a lot of people in our group that have stayed with us for long periods of time––they’re the reason we grew up. We want to create more opportunity for them. There are so many people that deserve opportunities to work in our group, and they’d hit a plateau if we didn’t create more opportunities for growth.
Vinny: We’ve put a lot of stuff aside in our life, like in our early days when a lot of people we knew were having fun, traveling the world and living on a shoestring budget. We were living on a shoestring budget, but we were working our asses off. That got us to where we are now.
Jon: As Vinny said, it’s like we put everything else on hold in our lives to be able to do this. Currently, we’re trying to focus not just on our professional careers but our personal careers. We neglected them so long and we’re both fathers. That to us, being parents, is the most important thing right now. Up until we were both parents, it was about the restaurants and our egos and now it’s about them. We’ve passed on a lot of things, put a lot of things on hold and take our time on a lot of things to be able to provide for [our families].
Jon: We are American-trained chefs. Obviously, there are French techniques, and there are Asian techniques. There are Southern techniques. There are techniques from all over the world, but at the end of the day we’re American chefs and this is our upbringing. We can use whatever we want. Right? Because America is a melting pot. It’s like Jon & Vinny’s. We call Jon & Vinny’s ‘Italian” but is it ‘Italian American’? Is it ‘Californian Italian’?
Vinny: We reference every food culture. I think Jon & Vinny’s is the most singular palate compared to Animal and Son of a Gun. Animal and Son of a Gun feature more global flavors, but Jon & Vinny’s is the one that is Italian American, like Jersey, New York, Delaware and Philly. We reference Italy but we’re not so hardcore about it, like ‘this is a Tuscan dish’. There’s also a little undertone of California in the dishes because of where we are.
Vinny: Roast chicken, pasta.
Jon: My kids don’t like chicken but they like pasta. Pasta and carbs. Kids love carbs.