Phil Anthony is a chef with a big heart.
He works at a place called Granite Tapas as their new executive chef for an old high school friend Jamie and her husband Matt, who struggled finding someone like Phil to take care of their business. I’m sure they must feel grateful and relieved to have found someone they feel comfortable with, and know.
In a small town like Hooksett, New Hampshire, USA, he’s found his feet, and a job he enjoys. But his journey has been long and really, really tough. I’ll let you discover that through his words:
“I’d have to say my passion for cooking started with my grandmother. As a young child, my family and I (5 sisters and 2 brothers ) would all drive about 1 hour for Sunday dinner at my grandparents’ house along with my mother and my father and my uncles and aunts with their children.
We would get there early morning and all my siblings would be outside playing with the other kids while the other adults were enjoying the day, talking, drinking cocktails, except for my grandmother who was in the kitchen. She’d be making and preparing all the food for everyone and I would always be in the kitchen with her – helping her make the fresh pasta and raviolis, her bolognese or marinara – everything was always fresh and scratch made.
I remember being very young sitting on her counter top, licking the bowls of her desserts, then licking the rubber spatula of her homemade tiramisu to then tasting other things. I’d help her form and make meatballs, eggplant rollatini and this seemed to become a tradition for her and me on Sundays. It was special. And as I grew I learnt and became more involved in the cooking and preparation with her as I got older.
I decided that I wanted to be a chef, more than anything, but I have to say it’s been quite the journey and struggle at the same time. I was a sous chef for quite a while and I was itching to move up, but I was careful not to move too fast. I wanted to be successful at whatever I did, because of my love and passion for the industry and being able to create amazing dishes with the freshest of ingredients.
Mentally, I’m pretty competitive, and start a new job with the mindset: ‘I’m gonna learn everything about my supervisor’s position because I want his job!’ That’s how I worked my way up the ladder – plus a little bit of luck helped. But I always worked with professionalism and respect for my colleagues.
One day I saw an opportunity to step up. The chef above me was hopeless, and they let him go and let me run things, keeping the place afloat while they sought a chef to fill the spot. But 1 month went by and then 2 months and well, I stayed in the role. They paid me less though. But now, I have my dream job and I’m happy.
And my biggest battle in life? Cancer. I remember it so well – it was Halloween day in 2006. October 31st, 11am and I spent 11 hours in hospital because of a large mass in my neck. This was one year following my new position as executive chef, and I was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkins’ lymphoma. I missed 2 weeks of work and began my chemo and radiation treatments. Whew! I had 4 different kinds of chemo every Thurday for 6 months and then following the finish of chemo I did radiation everyday for 2 and a half months. I only missed those 2 weeks of work and I combined my 2 days off from work with 2 days from the following week to have a consecutive of 4 days of so I could do my chemo treatments and be able to rest because it makes you awfully sick.
Then after my 6 months of chemo was finished I had radiation everyday for 2.5 months, and I would go to radiation then leave for work.
This past June marks 10 years since my last chemo and radiation treatment. I went from weighing 175lbs down to 105lbs, still working fulltime as a chef.
But you know what? I was then told I’d never have kids because of the amount of chemo and radiation I received, but then I had two amazing blessings! My now 8 year old daughter and my 5 year old son both are my world and my reason for working as hard as I do and striving for success everyday.
These days, I’m a single full time dad as well, and for me? The greatest feeling ever is when I bring them to the restaurant with me sometimes and they learn how to make pizzas from scratch – they love it because they get to spend time with me in the kitchen where I work.
Some work highlights? Well, I’ve been on Phantom Gourmet twice – a local tv show where you only get about a 4 minute segment to talk about the restaurant and food and cook a dish. I’ve cooked for a few professional athletes, and for Kevin Costner, Steven Tyler, Adam Sandler. They all loved my food!!!
At Granite Tapas, the kitchen is small by American standards – just 2 cooks plus myself and a dishwasher. I try to keep a good balance because that’s always hard to find – that balance within a kitchen. Everything is very organized and kitchen chemistry is important – holding everyone accountable, including myself – I want them to feel very involved and important – not just myself but I make sure the staff get a lot of the credit for the work we do there and food we create.
One of the things I’d love to change in the industry is the amount of food waste – there are no byproducts – simply more products. Chefs should learn about composting, repurposing waste, the idea of nose to tail, how to use offal and off-cuts, and to communicate with their farmers and producers.
My advice to young chefs and apprentices? You should always want the next guy’s job above you, so learn as much as you can.
You’re only as good as your last dish always – put forth your best work whether you just opened or you’re putting your last dish in the window of the night and you’re exhausted. Always, always write everything you make down so you never forget and be eager and be a sponge. Absorb everything you see and learn. And be the best you can be. “
Thank you Philio – you make me so humble and glad you’re in the world.