Interview with Robert “Chef Stew” Stewart.
Q. What was life like growing up for you? What kind of family did you grow up in?
A: Life growing up for me was hard. I was born in Baltimore County, but raised in Baltimore City. My mom did the best she could do and tried her best to keep me and my siblings safe. Anyone from Baltimore knows the difference between the two, being born in one and raised in the other, gave me diversity and this transition prepared me for my journey and it helped shaped my persona.
Q. How old were you when you knew this was your calling and what you were going to do with the rest of your life?
A: This is a 2 part answer. I grew up in the outskirts of Baltimore County, but always traveled to Baltimore City to visit my grandmother. I would like to say that I first got intrigued about cooking around the age of 11. My grandmother was a fantastic cook and I thought everything she cooked was great. From childhood watching my grandmother cook and then going home and asking her the ingredients she used and then going home to try to make it myself, it kept me in the kitchen and/or around food. I think I knew I this was what I wanted to for the rest of my life after taking a break and pursuing other business ventures and realizing my happiness lied within in the kitchen and with food. At that point, I knew I was going to be a chef.
Q. Were you a dreamer growing up? What kind of dreams did you have?
A. I was always a dreamer and to some point, to this day, still have big dreams and hopes. When I was younger, I dreamed of being rich, famous, having kids and a beautiful wife. Overall I wanted to have a lot of money. For the most, a lot of my dreams came true. The only thing missing is the beautiful wife and a little bit more money, lol. I also knew I wanted to be a business owner. I learned “either you own a business or you work for the person who owns a business.” I knew I wanted to own my own business, so I am also still pursuing that dream.
Q. Where were you born and where do you reside?
A. Born and raised in Baltimore,MD. I eventually moved to Atlanta,Georgia before currently residing in SanFrancisco, California. I come from a great family, but life in Baltimore was hard. Moving to California has given me an opportunity to move steadfastly as a Chef and has allowed me to learn different ethnic backgrounds from Spanish to Asian to Indian and so forth. In pursuit of becoming a Chef, I also thought it was imperative to travel to different states and learn different cultures and cuisines.
Q. What made you decide to be a chef? Who were some of your earliest influences?
A. My grandmother made me want to be a chef. I also think it was seeing her reaction to food and seeing how food changed people. I like to think that food is the one common factor that most people have in common, we all want to eat. Food is also the one thing that can bring people together. As a child, I became intrigued with cooking, but yet I wasn’t sure if it was for me. I worked/owned several different companies from a bail company, to working in the loan department of a bank, to a car wash, etc. Even in middle school, we used to sell candies.
Q. Was it hard breaking in to the business? Do you consider yourself a known chef or a chef in progress? Have you worked for any celebrities?
A. It is hard to know your accomplishments and still have to sell yourself. I have been on TV, in magazines, received awards and you would be amazed at how many people still don’t know who I am. After building a formidable reputation in the Culinary Industry, I was honored to become Personal Chef to Actress/Comedian Luenell. This was not only an amazing opportunity for me, but also a career move because I then had to leave Atlanta after spending 7 years in pursuit of owning my own restaurant, aptly named Stewarts Bistro. However, moving to California has been a dream come true, taking me from Baltimore, MD to the hallway of Food Network. I have gained several clients in both the Corporate and Entertainment industries who solicit my services for catering and private dinners while traveling across the country. I also have a Celebrity Chef Jacket autographed with the names of the celebrities I have had the honor of cooking for. I still continue to pursue my dream of eventually opening my restaurant called “Stewarts Bistro” in multiple major cities worldwide.
Q. How do you maintain your integrity in an otherwise very competitive and sometimes unscrupulous industry, as the restaurant business can be very cut throat?
A. Restaurant business is very cut throat. My secret is to stay humble and true to me! I remember years ago, walking into a kitchen declaring “I AM A CHEF!” The head chef in that kitchen, then decided to see how much of a chef I was. He asked me about different spices, dishes and preparation techniques and sadly I knew none of what he asked. From that moment, he taught me to go in and let your work sell itself. Since learning that, I hear that I am professional, creative, great personality and a people person. I now play to my strengths. Perception is key.
Q. When cooking, what do you enjoy more?
A. Really, I just simply get a kick out of preparing dishes and especially, seeing the expressions on people’s faces. I anticipate hearing their delight over a dish, although sometimes they are so intrigued with the presentation, it takes them a while to realize that they have to actually eat it, lol. I especially like getting people to eat something, they claimed they would never eat. I’ve learned that by applying diversity when I cook is a great thing in promoting one’s business and makes it possible to take it to an international level. When a business is backed by varied diverse thoughts and cultures, thus the best of all worlds can lead to success.
Q. How difficult is it to maintain a work-life balance? Splitting time between you and your family?
A. Maintaining a work-life balance is extremely difficult. It could sometimes be a thorn in my side. The work I can deal with, but being away from my children gets tough. My daughter and son live in 2 different states, so I have to make sure to split my free time equally. I make sure although sometimes I miss a basketball game or a dance lesson, one thing I would never do is miss a birthday. My son was asked by a friend if he heard about this guy who is a great chef and my son said no, so the friend pulled out a magazine and he was so happy to say “that’s my dad!” What also keeps me going is they are excited their father is on television.
Q. Would you consider yourself a driven person? What makes you a powerhouse? What is the source of your strength?
A. I am a very driven person. I remember I didn’t listen to anyone, I had investors and I was going to finally get my dream come true, only to have the investors back out 2 weeks before closing and having to admit to everyone, you were right. Knowing I still have dreams of opening my own restaurant, I stay focused, keep faith and remain humble. I think that the force to be reckoned with is my training. Pursuing this chef dream, I took any and every job just to make a way and/or to get a different type of training. I am a person who has worked in fast food, managed restaurants, been a waiter, a busboy, a loan clerk, etc. So it is a good feeling to know that when that dream happens, I can not only manage my restaurant/kitchen, but I can help out the staff to maintain a respectable business.
Q. How would you define peace?
A. I define peace by stepping away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and be able to sit back and do simple stuff. Eat fast food, watch a movie, spend times with my kids. I love watching jeopardy and I like to enjoy a big mac from McDonalds. You need to make time to relax. I can honestly say that the real answer to looking for peace though is within you. Peace cannot be sought in others, it can only start and end with you. Also remember, don’t lie to yourself.
Q. Do you have a cookbook out? If yes, name? If not, is this something you are currently working on or would like to work on?
A. Yes, I do. My cookbook is entitled “Maryland Crab”.
Q. What can we expect from you in the future? Do you own your own restaurant or is that a dream of yours?
A. I currently have my Catering Company (Stewarts Bistro Gourmet Catering, contacted at ChefStewCatering@gmail.com) and Clothing Line (www.Str8Chefn.com) that we are expanding daily. I also have a cooking show (Industry Soup on Youtube). My book is available “Maryland Crab” chef stew website
Q. What advice would you offer others who are interested in becoming a chef?
A. Dreams are the language with God. Make sure that your dreams are the same dreams God has in store for you. Also,before investing financially, get free training through regular jobs and MAKE SURE this is what you want before you find yourself knee deep in bills for something that doesn’t really make you happy. Also remember 3 things: 1) associate yourself with like-minded people; 2) get experience in your field; 3) have faith.