LA Chef Joel David Miller’s first job

(Originally published December 28, 2014 on

Name: Joel David miller
Current position: Executive Chef at The Wallace in Culver City

What was your VERY first restaurant industry job?
JDM: I’m not sure if being a cashier at McDonald’s counter when I was 15, seeing as there was no real food handling going on, but it did teach me I wouldn’t be very good dealing with people. My first job in the back of house was at Follow Your Heart Cafe in Canoga Park, CA.

How did you get this job?
JDM: My good friend at the time told his boss I was in culinary school and needed an internship (I wasn’t actually enrolled in any culinary program), but I just needed a job badly. It ended up being a paying position.

How old were you?
JDM: I was 20 years old.

What did you do?
JDM: I was a prep/salad cook. Just large batch vegetable work. The restaurant is a vegetarian joint, so I learned the basics about vegetables since I had no formal training.

How long did you have this job?
JDM: 2 years.

Did your responsibilities evolve?
JDM: Of course they did – it’s hard for them not to. I’d like to think of myself as a quick learner so I moved from salads to sandwiches and then sauté. I felt like I could do everything there by the time I left. I knew I was a good cook, even though later on I realized I didn’t know shit.

What did you take away from this job?
JDM: A lot. It’s where I learned how to use a knife properly, terms for specific cuts, how to deal with getting burned and pushing through a shift. It gave me an introduction to the culinary world I had no idea about – the kinds of people I would be working with, the hours, etc. It shaped my mind more than it did my ability to “cook”.

If and how did your first job inspire you to pursue a career as a chef?
JDM: It changed my life completely. I was enrolled in a 4 year program for poly sci at CSUN and knew after a couple months that any of that knowledge would be useless to me for my career. I loved being in a kitchen, the atmosphere was something I hadn’t experienced before. I wanted to learn everything about cooking, so I immersed myself in it. Having 2, 3 jobs at a time in different restaurants just so I could absorb every bit. I even thought about going to culinary school, but through advice of chefs ended up staging at as many restaurants as possible. I learned that it doesn’t matter where, how, or when you started your career, as long as you want it, dedicate, and sacrifice nothing can stop you. Work hard and don’t be a pussy.

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