New Milano executive chef traveled long, winding road
HOUMA, La. (AP) — The road that has led 30-year-old Thibodaux native Patrick Trahan to the position of executive chef at Milano restaurant in Houma is not a traditional one.
Trahan has gone through the heights of training under one of the luminaries of the culinary world in France to the lows of the Louisiana penal system before his hire at Milano six months ago.
A graduate of the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University, Trahan worked at restaurants in New York and New Orleans, and trained under legendary French chef Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France, before his culinary career was nearly derailed by a series of bad choices.
In his sophomore year at Nicholls, Trahan did an externship at the Westchester Country Club in New York, where he found himself being handed more responsibility than he had bargained for.
Instead of simply working as a line cook, as is normal for such externships, Trahan was given tasks normally assumed by the executive chef, who was often pulled away from his duties in his quest for a promotion at the country club.
Trahan said that the experience was invaluable.
“It was a segue into management, what a chef would do in that situation,” Trahan said. “You’re never ready until you’re ready, until you’re thrown into it and you have no choice but to be ready.”
In his senior year at Nicholls in 2013, Trahan was one of a handful of Nicholls students chosen to attend a program called the Worldwide Alliance, led by Bocuse, a giant in French nouvelle cuisine and worldwide icon who died last January.
The alliance brings together culinary students from 22 different countries every year to learn the fundamentals of French cuisine, and Trahan was one of four representing not only Nicholls but the United States of America.
“The first two weeks or so were kind of culture shock,” Trahan said. “I couldn’t really speak the language, and quite frankly, I wanted to come home. I felt totally out of control of any situation, totally out of my element.”
But Trahan stuck it out, and was glad he did.
“It was a fight-or-flight mechanism,” he said. “Once I got into it and became comfortable, it was the best five months of my life. I had such a blast over there and learned so much. Being immersed in that culture, and especially the food, was such a big thing for me.”
Trahan’s rising star in the culinary world came crashing down, largely of his own doing.
While working as sous chef at Mopho in New Orleans after graduating from Nicholls, Trahan was cited for drunk driving four times. The fourth landed him in the care of the state of Louisiana for 13 months.
After getting out of prison, Trahan said he gave up on cooking, blaming it and the underbelly of substance abuse that is rife on the front lines of the restaurant business for his troubles.
He looked for jobs outside the restaurant business in his attempt to rebuild his life after prison, but the call of the kitchen was still strong.
His life was turned back around after a single epiphany.
“The light-bulb moment was me taking responsibility for my actions,” he said. “The blame was all on myself, and I had to realize that. It wasn’t the restaurant industry that made me get behind the wheel (drunk) and drive.
“I’ve been cooking for 13 years, I don’t know what else I’d want to do.”
Now settled in at Milano, 314 Belanger St., near his family in Thibodaux, Trahan said his goal is to get people out of their culinary comfort zone and simply try new things.
“I’ve been given the creative freedom to do pretty much what I want to do, within a certain realm,” he said. “I still have to cater to the guests that we have, but my goal is to get them to trust what I do, trust the food that I put out, so that eventually they’ll just try anything I put on the menu.
“I don’t see myself going anywhere any time soon.”
Information from: The Courier, http://www.houmatoday.com