Some people dabble in dreams while others go like gangbusters toward their goals; i.e. Jeremiah Clark. His journey from bussing tables to executive chef has, however, been a far cry from typical. Clark admits, “I really didn’t start cooking until I was 17. My girlfriend (now wife, Mandy) liked to cook and after a visit to her grandparents’ house where we did a lot of cooking I realized how much I enjoyed it.” He paid attention to that passion, did some research, took a tour at The Chef’s Academy and enrolled. Although it was a struggle going to school and working he was driven to succeed. “I give a lot of credit to Chef Jeffrey Bane and Chef Matthew Mejia for pushing me hard; they made me want to do well,” he said.
But it was Clark’s own inner tenacity to have an externship at The French Laundry, a Thomas Keller, 3-Star Michelin Star restaurant in Yountville, CA, that led him to start emailing and calling in July of 2008, to make his request. And it was April 2009 before anyone responded. After a brief phone call Clark headed to California for a two day 40 hour stagier that ultimately landed him the externship and experience of a lifetime. During his tenure, he learned invaluable lessons that continue to impact him to this day. “I worked 15 hour days where they lived and breathed finesse! There was a plaque hanging in the kitchen with the definition of the word that I saw every time I passed from the kitchen into the dining room. Under the clock were the words "sense of urgency" and nothing left that kitchen that wasn’t perfect. I also experienced the importance of the family meal where every day we stopped to eat with our kitchen family. Sometimes it was only for 15 minutes and we ate standing up, but there was still that sense of togetherness. The externship was exciting because they pushed me beyond my limits. I would not be the same chef I am today without that experience. It was an unbelievable opportunity.”
Following his externship, he had a stint at Bouchon, another Thomas Keller restaurant in Yountville. There Clark found a very different kitchen environment where he was schooled in classic bistro food. “It was all about speed with perfection; strict and in some ways militaristic in its approach. We served 500 people a day and at times it was a bit intimidating, but I absolutely worked with some of the best chefs I’ll ever work with in my life.”
For Jeremiah his family is a priority and he made the decision to return to Indiana to regain a more balanced approach to his chosen career and to make contributions to the culinary scene in his home state. Prospective employers were savvy to note his Thomas Keller experience and doors opened quickly; first at Taste in Broad Ripple and then at Eggshell Bistro in Carmel. In the fall of 2012 he accepted the position of Executive Chef at Plum’s Upper Room in Zionsville where he collaborates with the owner to create seasonal menus. “I have a passion for supporting local businesses and farmers so we are a ‘farm to table’ restaurant where you won’t see a slice of tomato in February because we don’t have any growing here in the winter.” Challenges for Clark include keeping the menu interesting and continuing to educate himself without another chef in the kitchen.
Clark shared his advice for current students at a recent Alumni in Training event, “I gained a great foundation and skills and made connections at TCA but ultimately you need to get in a hot kitchen. You have to find an area of the culinary industry that you are passionate about; that keeps you inspired to keep growing and learning. And you have to work hard. You are building a foundation in school, but when you get in a real kitchen working for guests you are building walls brick by brick that will create your contribution to the culinary scene where you choose to work.” And why does he do it? “I really love to cook. I get a lot of burns, but I love to cook and to interact with my guests. Someday I hope to have a restaurant of my own,” said Clark. Clearly, Chef Jeremiah Clark has found his recipe for success!