Lessons from the Pros
Thi Cao is currently the Executive Chef and Partner at Buckley’s Restaurant in Milwaukee, WI. A Wisconsin native, Chef Thi’s path to the culinary arts was not a direct one. After he received his Business Management degree at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and spending several years working in the IT field, he made a career change, and at the age of twenty-nine began passionately pursuing his desire to work with food.
He received a Culinary Arts degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Los Angeles, CA and then spent time in many high-octane Michelin starred kitchens working with renown Chefs like Marc Fosh at Reads Hotel in Majorca, Spain; Daniel Patterson at Coi, Laurent Gras at L2o; and Michael Cimarusti previously at Water Grill in Los Angeles. Fully inspired, Thi eventually returned to Wisconsin and started in the Chef Apprentice program at the Pfister Hotel’s old Celia Restaurant. He also worked at Coquette Café under James Beard award winner Sandy D’Amato, and held his first Chef position at Osteria del Mondo where he earned his first four stars from the late Dennis Ghetto of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Chef Thi Cao’s stylings have been described as “personality driven.” He is a mid-western kid with a Southeast Asian heritage, who is fundamentally trained in French cuisine with a contemporary eye. His food philosophy is ingredient focused, not fussy.
Here are a few lessons he’s learned
I have more dish washing shifts now as a chef, then I ever did before becoming a chef.
A good attitude is far more valuable and attractive than a good resume. I don’t care where you worked, if you suck as a person then you’re no good to anyone. (Terrell Owen “T.O. syndrome”)
If you chase money, you will always chase money. Chase your dream and passion, money will eventually chase you.
Don’t be a dick.
The customer is NOT always right. They are usually wrong but you make it right for them.
You come to work. Always.
If you recognize a problem and are not actively solving it…. You’re part of the problem.
You cannot be a GOOD cook without being a GREAT prep cook. Everyone is so eager to skip the prep position and work the line. If you “leap frog” on basic development skills, you have no foundation to build upon. Work on your craft!
Your energy has a profound effect on everyone. Refer again to Lesson #4.
I have worked in many fields throughout my life, culinary is not a field where you can BS your way through. Refer to Lesson #8.
There is no MAGIC LIGHT SWITCH. Directed towards the people who are under the radar, doing just enough to get by....Meaning: there will not be a day where you make more money, you have a lead/management title, then all of the sudden their personality and work ethic miraculously improve.
Oh! One more, just because it is currently relevant; watching YouTube videos does not equate to real life experience. Boom!