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Chef Dreaming

It all began with bromance, a term that our boys used for their “dates” with each other. It was 2011. Caleb was about to graduate from high school and spend a gap year at home publishing his book Boy on the Red Bike (this book is still available on today) and recording “A Cure for Waking” album with his band Daylight Savings (these songs are still available on Spotify today). He realized that his time at home is coming to an end and began to plan regular one on one dates with his brothers Jonathan and Stephen.

For Stephen’s birthday, Caleb gave a set of two cookbooks to his little bro Stephen, promising him that they will use these books on their bromance dates to learn new recipes together. To the then 10-year-old Stephen, his two big brothers were larger than life, because they were 6 and 8 years older than him, and seemed to be able to do everything. He hero worshipped his big brothers, so having these special times with big bro Caleb meant the world to him. These bromance cooking sessions made such an impact that for a long time, Stephen dreamt of becoming a professional chef.

Fast forward to 2019. Stephen was at the School of Art Institute Chicago (SAIC) pursuing a career in digital animation. However, he never stopped cooking for fun, as he volunteered to cook for his roommates as long as they purchased their own ingredients for him to cook. He dreamt of a day when he would make enough money to own a restaurant where he could paint in the day and cook for his clients and interact with them in the evenings. His cooking attracted so many classmates that at one time he was feeding groups of over 12 friends at one sitting. His dishes were so creative that his friends encouraged him to start a test kitchen in his apartment -- not only was he able to cook innovative dishes, he was also able to weave the dishes into a story telling experience where diners were transported into a different world. Stephen spent his summer before sophomore year planning his menus for his test kitchen, and launched it upon his return to campus in the fall.

Menus for Stephen’s Test Kitchen, created around a story line, with each course telling a part of the story.

Stephen’s test kitchen was such a smashing success that seats were booked at least two months in advance, even at $40 per person or $70+ per person with drinks. During this time, he received a couple of offers to become private chef with 6 figure salaries.

Then covid hit, and shut down all in-session schools. When classes went online, art instruction became virtually impossible, as he was unable to interact with his instructors and other fellow students in the learning and creative process. He continued with his test kitchen, but near the end of the first semester of sophomore year, Stephen made the decision to take the next semester off to pursue training in culinary arts full time, to see how far he would get in pursuing his dream of becoming a chef some day.

We all applauded his courage in taking this risky step. When big bro Caleb graduated from MIT, we also encouraged him to join a startup instead of taking a safe route with a big company like Google or Facebook. If you don’t take risks when you are young and have no one to be responsible for other than yourself, when else in life would you be able to do something daring in pursuit of a dream?

So, with the blessing of the entire Lin family, Stephen submitted his application to suspend enrollment at SAIC for a semester to try his luck at applying for jobs at some of his dream kitchens in hope of getting training on the job. He got his lucky break when Gaijin, a restaurant founded by famous Michelin star and James Beard award winning chef Paul Verant hired him to begin working as a line cook at one of his casual restaurants. To Stephen, this was a once in a lifetime chance to learn from the best, and he seized the opportunity. Within the first two weeks, he was promoted twice. He was later even given a chance to run the entire restaurant without the help of a supervisor multiple times.

At Gaijin, owner and celebrity chef Paul noticed how Stephen’s arrival greatly increased positivity in the restaurant atmosphere. Stephen’s big break came shortly after that when Paul asked Stephen to apply at his Michelin star restaurant, Vie, as a line cook. This was a long shot, because over 20 people, all with a lot more training and experience than Stephen, were fighting for a chance to work in this renowned restaurant, which has had its Michelin star since 2011.

After a few rounds of elimination, Stephen was ecstatic to hear that he had won the spot over others twice his age and experience! And so were we!

For a young man who just turned 20 this month, who barely entered into the restaurant industry for 2 months, this was beyond his wildest imaginations, and a dream come true! We couldn’t be more amazed and proud at the latest development!

How did this happen?

To help make ends meet and pay his bills, Stephen began to can jams and sell other of his own creations to nearby specialty stores when he began working at Gaijin. At the same time, his test kitchens continue to do well, with a fresh menu that is updated each month. Unbeknownst to him, owner Paul won his Michelin Star for his canning and pickling techniques. As Stephen talked with him about his jars of peppers and jams, and his test kitchen menu items, Paul took an interest in this young boy who is so passionate about cooking innovation. At the end, Stephen’s enthusiasm and drive won out over the other industry veterans, without him having any degrees from culinary school!

Now we have a son who is a college drop-out, a named brand university graduate who makes games for a living, and a son who is making enough money on his own to purchase his first house at the age of 25. Each is excited about his work and looks forward to getting up for work every morning! We love them all the same and are so proud of each of our kids!

Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

John Piper said, “God is most glorified when man is most satisfied.”

These two statements really sum up how we feel about our kids, because Caleb codes with great love for the people who play the game he codes for, Jonathan sells with great love for his clients and patients, and Stephen cooks with great love and loves on everyone he feeds.

Today, we celebrate Stephen’s achievement, which was first nurtured by being raised in a family that loves to taste all kinds of foods in all kinds of locations and cultures, first with Amah’s home cooking, and then with his bromance times bonding with Caleb over cooking.

As for this proud Mom, I would like to add this saying posted right now at our elevator in Taiwan:

English translation: It is more blessed to eat than to be skinny

We can’t wait to visit Stephen and taste all that he will cook up for us in Chicago!

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