Jonathan Elwell

Jonathan Elwell

Chef Jonathan Elwell

Areas of Expertise: Menu Development, Ordering, Special Events, Wine Dinners
Years in Industry: 28+
Credentials: Graduate ACFEF Apprenticeship Program, Certified Executive Chef (CEC)
Professional Associations: American Culinary Federation
Personal Motto: “Make it your own and own it.”
Culinary Philosophy: Fresher and closer to home the better.


What prompted you to become a Chef?

During a high school trip to Washington DC our teaching assistant from Georgetown stated if he could do it all over again he would become a chef, then in college the Dean of the accounting department as a teacher and he stated the same thing.  I had be working in a kitchen since high school and decided that I did not want to look back and with that if I had it all to do again that I would have at least tried to become a chef.

Did you have a Chef Mentor? If so, who was your Chef Mentor and what did they teach you?

Eric Karell, CEC, was my Chef Mentor and I did my apprenticeship under him. He taught me to never compromise, whether it’s your standards, ingredients, or preparation, and use the best ingredients and prepare them to the height of your ability. Also, writing menus is easy, they can be beautiful and sound great, but if you have not trained your staff to prepare the items it does not matter how eloquent your menu reads.

What is the best part of being a Chef?

The reactions from diners once they have tasted something great.

What is the worst part of being a Chef?

Long hours and time away from family.

In your opinion, how are culinary reality shows different from the real culinary industry?

I can’t think of one show that truly shows what it’s like in a professional kitchen. It seems in the shows that equipment works properly all the time, cooks have forever to prepare dishes, kitchens are large expansive places with all the equipment and room that anyone could ever need, and you only have to cook one dish at a time. In reality, kitchens are hot, cramped, and extremely fast paced and you have to be an excellent multitasker.

If you traveled back to the beginning of your culinary career, what advice would you give yourself? 

Immerse yourself into learning all you can about food, culinary students are mainly schooled in classical European cooking. Concentrate on other regions – Asian, South American, Mediterranean, etc. 

What advice would you give someone striving to become a Chef today?

Same as from above and also work in the best places that you can. Always carry around a small notepad to write recipes, methods, or ideas in or even just a piece of paper to write your prep list on.

What should someone think about before beginning culinary school? 

This is a hard industry, you work nights, weekends, and holidays – basically the times your family and friends are off having fun. Be sure you are willing to work the hours. Also, out of school most students are hired as cooks and they will work at that for several years as they learn and gain experience – very few culinary grads are hired on as sous chefs or chefs.

Many future Chefs dream of opening a restaurant, what advice would you give them?

There’s an old line that you never own a restaurant, the restaurant owns you. Free standing restaurant owners will work even longer hours than chefs. The kitchen aspect of running a restaurant is only a small part of the entire operation. There was a saying that “more chefs are fired not for being bad chefs but for being bad managers.” The financial side of the business will hurt more chefs than the cooking side of the business. Managing food cost, labor cost, ordering, payroll, business license, liquor license, etc., are all handled by the owner.

What are some of the most important skills someone must possess when entering the industry today?

Obviously culinary skills, these are the foundation of all that you do. Good knife skills, proper cooking skills, sanitation, etc., and math skills in regards to recipes, ordering, budgeting, etc., these are all important.

What tools and/or resources do you rely on the most and why? 

Internet – for research, new menu ideas, and even new culinary trends. It’s much easier now to learn about different cultures or cooking techniques than it was during my schooling. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to peers – on several occasions I’ve called or emailed other chefs to ask them how they have done something or for them to look at items that I am working on.

In your opinion, what is the most successful culinary path and how can this be achieved? 

Go to work in an establishment that will teach you speed and proper culinary techniques. If a student or recent grad can get their work done quicker and properly, chefs notice that and will provide them with more tasks or will take the time to show them other tasks to perform, and that is how you begin to work your way up. Look for a mentor, someone who will take the time to teach the proper skill set to you and will challenge you.

Our audience has a strong desire to make a career in the culinary industry, as such, do you have any final thoughts for them? 

Work hard, work fast, work correctly. Ask questions – you want to know not only how to cook or prepare items, but understand why something is cooked or prepared a certain way. Don’t be afraid to try things at least once, you may not like it but at least you know what you do not like about a product.

Don’t be afraid to try things at least once, you may not like it but at least you know what you do not like about a product.