Celebrity Chef Rob Gayle is the owner of Chef Rob’s Caribbean Café & Upscale Lounge. At a early age, he cultivated his natural skill of cooking good Caribbean food. Owning multiple businesses was always a dream. Having a passion for both cooking and business was the ingredient to produce his Atlanta restaurant in 2005.
On a Saturday morning, Gayle arrives to work in a blue blazer with a leather brown briefcase. With being a chef and owning a restaurant you have to wear two coats – the business blazer and executive chef coat. Black Men’s Dossier speaks with Gayle to rap about his culinary journey and owning a restaurant.
You were born in Jamaica. When and why did you come to U.S.?
I came to the U.S. in 1982 for a better opportunity with my three sisters and one brother.
When did you discover your love for food?
My passion started at a young age. When I was about 13 years old, I started at a restaurant in Long Island, New York. When you grow up in the Caribbean’s and see your parents and your sister doing it [cooking], it just becomes so easy. I just took it to the next level and decided to begin to learn the craft and go to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) to further my education in Culinary Arts.
“If I have the passion and the will to do it. I don’t think there’s anything that can stop me”
Do you come from a family of chefs?
My sister is a Dental Hygienist in New York but she also went to school for Pastry’s. She has two careers. I’m the only chef but you know mom is going to always be the chef of the family. My mother and my sister were very influential in me becoming a chef. I was always in the kitchen watching them create a meal for the entire family. Cooking just became natural to me. They inspired me.
When did you realize that this would be your career?
As a child I would dream a lot and I knew whatever I put my mind to would work. I didn’t realize I would become a chef. My inspiration was to become a great businessman and to have multiple businesses. To become the chef was never my goal but cooking is so easy and natural for me. Some people say either you got it or you don’t.
How did you begin cooking for celebrities?
I would give credit to Sean Puffy Combs for giving me an opportunity to work in his establishment and giving me an opportunity to come down to Georgia and really further my culinary talents.
When you are around Diddy and the caliber of entertainers and friends that he has, it's automatic. It was just natural for me to be at an event cooking for celebrities. It didn’t faze me because it’s just natural to me I love doing it [cook].
I worked in Diddy’s restaurant in New York. I was always around. He always saw me at the photo shoots. After a year of constantly seeing me, he knew my name. He came up to me and spoke ‘How are you doing Chef Rob’, and it was solid since then. If I saw him today, I would tell him ‘thank you’, because he may not realize how much he has changed my life, for the better. You know coming to Atlanta and following my dreams.
When did you open your own restaurant?
I actually came from New York 14 years ago and opened Justin’s for Diddy. I worked two years in New York at Justin’s, and two years here at Justin’s in Atlanta. I went to Taboo, and got them together and did about a year there. I did some private chef work for entertainers and basketball player, Dikembe Mutombo. I worked at a small catering facility to learn the craft and pick brains. I started my own catering business and I worked at Emeril's also to learn more and pick up some stuff. In 2005, I opened up my restaurant for another guy and it didn’t make it. So a year later, I came in and took over this location, because I knew how much was invested in it. July of this year will make eight years that I’ve been in business.
What are some of the struggles with owning a restaurant?
It’s a beautiful struggle. I’m not going to lie. You have to be passionate about it. It has to be in your heart because owning a restaurant -- not just a restaurant -- owning a business is a lot of struggle in itself. You have to learn how to deal with employees and customers. You have to make sure all your ducks are in a row. Make sure you have your CPA. Make sure you’re paying your taxes, payroll and rent on time. I strive to make sure I do everything the right way. I continuously put pressure on myself to do bigger and better things and I never settle.
I saw cooking classes on your website. Do you teach them live or just provide demos on your website?
Well I just recently did one on 11 Alive with Rashan Ali. I’ve done a few of them in the past for different networks and I do them here at the restaurant as well. I will be doing one soon here in the lounge area so we could give awareness especially to kids. One of my goals is to give back to these young kids. I know their parents are very busy and we want to be able to go in their homes and show them how to cook something quick, fast, and efficient for their parents while they are at work. When they get home from school they could whip something up real quick for their parents.
Are there any principles you live by that helped you succeed?
You have to work hard. You must have a passion for what you do. Don’t let anyone steer you wrong. If it’s in your heart. If you can dream it, you can do it. I get up every morning and I’m dreaming. I’m surprised I don’t crash on the highway from day dreaming. I just love to get on the road and just drive. That’s what really freed me up to know the sky’s the limit. It’s like an endless highway. That’s where my mind is. It’s endless on what I could do for my kids and to leave a legacy. So it’s a lot more to come.