“Butter knife, stat! Come on, people, we’re losing him! His vitals are dropping, someone up the buttercream dosage in his IV!” Hamilton brushed away a pearl of sweat that had formed upon his brow. The nerves in the atmosphere were so high, you could practically reach out and touch them.
Okay, okay, I’ll admit: I may have embellished the memory a tiny bit. That wasn’t exactly how Mr. Jonas Hamilton’s stressful evening in the Ritz-Carlton kitchen had gone down all those years ago, but hey, that’s how I like to picture it.
In reality, it had been a rather pleasant evening at Philadelphia’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. Mr. Hamilton sliced and diced away in the kitchen, attending to business as usual. A few hours into his shift, a waiter placed a dessert before him and made a simple request: “Do this birthday cake.”
“Easy enough,” Hamilton thought to himself. He whipped out a knife, sliced, and plated the cake.
Once the job was complete, Hamilton sat upright and brushed his hands together, satisfied. Just as he finished the task, the waiter re-entered the kitchen to recollect the cake. His eyes grew wide at the sight of the cut dessert. “You were just supposed to place candles on it, not divy it up!”
Realizing his mistake, Mr. Hamilton commenced an emergency kitchen-surgery to reattach the cake’s severed parts. He even garnered a crowd: the restaurant’s staff peered over his shoulder as he attempted to salvage the cake. After a few minutes of intense operation, Mr. Hamilton stood upright to reveal the final product to his spectators. As the restaurant manager looked upon the botched cake, he let out a sigh: “I guess I’ll just have to turn down the lights.”
Taking a break from his studies at Columbia University, Mr. Hamilton had spent a total of three years as a pastry chef from 1998 to 2001. During this hiatus, Hamilton jump-started his cooking career in San Francisco where he received an education beyond the traditional classroom setting. For instance, because many of his new coworkers had been Mexican, Hamilton was able to pick up Spanish and eventually gain fluency. Hamilton’s love for language, however, was nothing new: he had passed proficiency exams for French, German, and Latin in college. And, in this new workplace, Hamilton was able to expand his love for language in a real-world setting.
Now, you might be wondering: How on Earth did a college student with an affinity for language and medieval history ever manage to convince a restaurant to hire him? Well, the job search was no cake-walk (pun 100% intended). Hamilton’s first attempt at a cooking job had been at a restaurant in Oakland, California. Soon after the interview had begun, the man who was to assess Mr. Hamilton walked away mid-conversation. Hamilton chuckled as he recounted the memory: “He essentially told me that just by looking at me, he took me for a high-maintenance pain in-the-butt. He had twenty other dependable dishwashers who he would hire before me.”
Despite this setback, Hamilton remained persistent in his search for a career in the kitchen. At his next attempt, Hamilton took a more tactical approach: he offered a few weeks of free labor so that he might prove his work-ethic to his prospective employer. Low and behold, his plan worked, and Hamilton landed himself his first ever cooking job.
Two years later, when Hamilton relocated to Philadelphia, the hiring process was a bit more demanding: he was required to prepare two plated desserts and a cake, using only the ingredients the restaurant had provided. Hamilton passed the test with flying colors: the executive chef even granted Hamilton his personal stamp of approval.
Hamilton spent the next year at the Ritz before entering the line of social work — but that’s another story for another day. Mr. Jonas Hamilton is a Renaissance man; there’s no better term to describe him. From pastry cooking to social working to speaking four languages, he’s done it all. Stay tuned for more bizarre Hamilton stories to come!