Meet the chef: Talmage Jestice of Storm Cafe
While it’s true that culinary schools like the New England Culinary Institute (NECI) produce great chefs who can manage complex recipes, those great chefs know that sometimes a simpler recipe works just as well as a difficult one. Case in point: executive chef Talmage Jestice of The Storm Café in Middlebury.
Jestice, who lives in Middlebury with his wife Mariah McGill and their four-year-old daughter, started out washing dishes at Fire and Ice Restaurant back in 1999. He worked his way up to line cook before doing it all over again at the Storm Café a few years later.
NECI seemed like the logical next step for his career, but Ian Huizenga — now chef and owner of the Bar Antidote in Vergennes — talked him out of it. “He told me, ‘I’ve got a better idea, why don’t you just give me $40,000 and I’ll buy a Cadillac,’” Jestice said. “’It doesn’t help you at all, but neither will going to culinary school.’”
One year later, Jestice moved to Boston and began working at a series of restaurants, learning the skills necessary to become a chef in the hustle and bustle and heat of a professional kitchen — an actual trial by fire.
He was building a career there, but Jestice and his wife wanted their daughter to grow up in Vermont, so after a little under 10 years in Boston they returned to the Green Mountain State. Now a seasoned professional — figuratively and maybe in a literal sense as well — Jestice is proud to be running the kitchen of one of his first restaurant jobs, something his younger self never thought he would be capable of doing.
Jestice does have concerns about the current state of the restaurant industry, particularly for people just starting out. “I’ve noticed that it’s harder for people to make a living doing this than it was when I was coming into this industry,” he said. “Heck, when I was line cooking making $12 an hour I could afford to rent an apartment in town on my own by myself. (Now) line cooks aren’t making any more. They’re making $13, maybe $14. You can’t rent anything — in Middlebury, certainly — on a $13 or $14 an hour wage.”
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