Whether you’re a beginner or advanced cook, or just want to learn more about cooking, Chef Joshua Stokes wants you to put down your iPhone, stop Googling, and ask him a face-to-face question. With over sixteen years experience cooking around the world as a chef, Stokes founded Grill A Chef, a free service and online resource designed to encourage people to cook and bring the social aspect back into social networking. Stokes, who’s also a private chef and won The Food Network’s popular competition, Chopped, lives and works in New York City. You can find him at three popular local markets throughout the week, available to answer any question you can dare to think up and ask about cooking.
You recently posted on your blog that it’s hard to describe what you do; why is that?
I still just consider myself a cook. I’m not a blogger. I don’t want it to be a famous blog. That’s not what I am. My blog does not set me apart from any other blog, what sets me apart is that I’m in a market and you can come see me. That’s what’s different about it. The altruistic goal overall is to encourage people to cook, help them cook and be a resource for them. Ideally, I would find a way to make money from it.
You were studying sculpture and then chose food. What inspired the switch?
I was more pushed away from sculpture then I was drawn to food. I love food. It’s a very satisfying, instant gratification job. You wake up in the morning, you buy ingredients, you cook dinner and tomorrow is a new day. If today goes totally haywire, tomorrow is still a new day. That was a big draw. It’s not a drag=on project that lasts six months.
What made you transition from working in restaurants to becoming a private chef and starting Grill A Chef?
The big motivation behind the transition is just quality of life. I love cooking; I love working at restaurants, I love the time, I love the comradery, I love the pace – you’re constantly learning, which is very stimulating. The downside is you don’t have any free time. When you’re cooking every day in a restaurant and you’re thinking to yourself, “I cannot do this for the rest of my life,” when you come to that realization, you get to the point where you have to set a different goal. Once you set that different goal, you have to pursue it. I didn’t even realize what my other goal was, I just realized owning a restaurant was not my goal, so spending all my time in restaurants was not getting me anywhere.
Who is your audience for Grill A Chef? Who seeks advice from you?
My audience is whoever cooks. But it’s more than that. It’s whoever cooks and whoever is interested in it. Some people cook but are not interested in it. Within that group of people who are interested, it’s the people who are motivated enough just to talk to me. It’s food security for people who cook and try things and are interested in doing something more with what they do.
What are the most common questions people ask you?
The common question is, “What’s the common question?” Seriously. It’s very specific to people’s needs.
Are there common mistakes that beginners make when they cook?
I think the biggest mistake people make is thinking of a recipe as a doctrine, they think if they can just follow it, then it will be good. Cooking is interactive; it’s an engaging process. You need to be aware, you have to taste throughout the process, it’s not like you can just cook something for four hours and take it out of the oven and it’s going to be delicious. I think the biggest mistake I see with beginner cooks is that they just don’t test things.
How has your life changed since you won The Food Network’s competition Chopped?
It was huge exposure for me. It took my circle of people that I deal with from New York to international. I didn’t realize it but it’s the most-watched cablevision show in its time slot, which is huge. People watch it all over Europe and online. I got a lot of feedback because of it. There’s a section on my website that invites collaborators and I’ve had some interesting people throw ideas at me that I’m still in communication with. For that reason it was great. The catch is that what sets me apart is that you can see me in person at the market. It’s cool that I have more exposure but the people that I’m exposed to aren’t exposed to the part of Grill A Chef that makes it unique.
How do you see Grill A Chef growing?
It can become a not-for-profit organization that gets grants and funding; it can become a completely altruistic endeavor that helps people cook and is available for whoever wants to take advantage of it.
It seems like human interaction is the most important element to Grill A Chef.
It’s the only thing that sets it apart. There’s a million food blogs, there’s a million food people on Twitter and Facebook, how do you stand out? I don’t know the answer to that question. I was joking with my friend that the tagline was going to be, “put down your f**king iPhone and come talk to me.” Everyone is so plugged in that they’re looking at a food application, and they don’t realize that there’s a dude standing right there.
What can our readers do to contribute to your success?
Ask me a cooking question. Take advantage of the service. I do so much for the service to be there. All I want is for people to take advantage of it. When and if it works for them, appreciate it and tell your buddy. My goal is to get more questions; I also need more cooks answering emails.