What is JB Prince? In short it is the Porche showroom for chefs. Actually, it is more than that. JB Prince provides a showroom of tools, equipment, books and more, which continuously sparks ideas and empties my wallet.
The store has character, beginning with its location on the 11th floor of a building in the rug district. Everyone I go there with asks me how I found this place. For me it was word of mouth. Years ago when I began cooking I was brought to this place that many treat as a culinary mecca, by Paul Sant, an Australian who was young, bright and eager to impart his knowledge of life and cooking to my sponge like persona. One day he said that I needed knives if I really wanted to be a chef. At this point in my career I was using the house knives of the country club where he and I worked. Yet, because the summer was drawing to a close and the Chef, Lenny Philips, had arranged for me to begin staging at the Park Avenue Cafe, I needed knives.
When you ascend the elevator to the 11th floor you emerge in a glass walled room lined books, pots, small machines and glass cases methodically arranged with knives. Welcome to the candy store, so to speak. I was shown the knives, and Paul guided me through the process of selecting mine. The expensive, glistening knives drew my attention. Thankfully Paul was there to wake me from the spell and point out that while those knives had merit, I needed practical, functional and knives that I would not mind seeing disappear. So we picked out knives with good blades and handles, appropriate for getting starting in the business which is now my life. I ended up with a chef's knife, a pairing knife, a serrated knife, a steel and a slicing knife.
As the knives were being wrapped up for me to begin slicing my own digits, which I did, but at least the knives were sharp, Paul directed me to the bookshelf and pointed to a book White Heat by Marco Pierre White. He just pointed. I picked the book up and was transfixed. This book, now in paper back, is more inspirational than any other piece of culinary literature. I began reading and came back to reality when Paul nudged me and asked if I was going to buy it.
Buy it I did. I then read it, and read it and read it again. I carried the book in my bag with my chef knives wherever I went. The book began to wear and became tattered. It did not matter. I was able to find my driving ambition in those pages, one that I truly believe sparked my career. And to this day, when I feel a bit amiss or disgruntled, I look to those pages and realize it is not that bad. Now I buy the book for others and give it away as a gift, to share the inspiration and to help get people out of their own ruts. I recomend that young cooks read the book and if their heart does not beat faster and their palms do not become sweaty, they should find another profession. Similarly, I remember stepping into JB Prince and making the first giant step in my career. But, most importantly I have the memories of a moment, a spark and a driving force which to this day pushes me to try and do better.
So, as irony and life seem to be bed fellows I was in JB Prince yesterday picking up some equipment. Low and behold, I ran into a contemporary who used to work at Park Avenue Cafe years ago when I first got started. And once again I catapulted back to the begining.