Chef Riley Redfearn
Chef Riley Redfearn falls in love with the chaotic kitchen and aspires to become an expert in watermelon carving and fruit displays.
“My biggest inspiration, I’d have to say, is definitely my wife and kids. They want to make me be a better husband, dad, chef, man all around. So I know that I got to get up every day and bust ass. So that way they’ll have a good future ahead of them.”
Riley Redfearn is a chef at a casino in Las Vegas. He specializes in watermelon carvings and fruit displays. He has four children and has been in the culinary industry for over 10 years.
This is Riley Redfearn’s story…
Riley Redfearn is a chef who recently got promoted to the position of Garde Manger chef for a casino. He got his start in cooking in high school working in fast food, but fell in love with it after getting a job in a kitchen and going to culinary school. He is now a father of four and specializes in watermelon carvings and fruit displays. He is currently working on learning how to ice carve and plans to continue advancing in his career.
In this episode, you will learn the following:
- What it’s like to work in a fast-paced and chaotic kitchen environment
- How to become a better cook or chef
- What goes into planning and executing large scale events
Chef Riley on Instagram
Here is the book Riley referenced.
The Art of Charcuterie by the CIA
Other great books on making your own Charcuterie:
Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing
In The Charcuterie: The Fatted Calf’s Guide to Making Sausage, Salumi, Pates, Roasts, Confits, and Other Meaty Goods
Great Resource for Equipment and Ingredients for making your own cured meats:
Other episodes you’ll enjoy:
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Welcome to Inside the Pressure Cooker, where cooks and chefs share their stories of. Life inside the kitchen.
It Amazed me how chaotic it was, but everything was so in sync and just flowed amazingly. And I just found it amazing that we could just cook for a living. I love to hear what got people into kitchens, because we all started somewhere, right? And it’s not just fast food that doesn’t necessarily count, but that first experience in a real kitchen where that shell shock kind of hits you, but you’re in awe of the whole experience, and you’re just amazed by its beauty, and you’re just sticking to it immediately. It really is almost like a drug where you’re just like, oh, shit, man.
It’s like, I need more of this. That’s pretty much what happened to Riley. I get it. And I know so many of you out there as well get that. So it’s a pretty cool story to hear from him.
All right, we’re here with Riley. Riley, give me your 32nd elevator pitch. Who are you? Chef Riley. I’m the Garma jerry chef for a casino for their banquet department.
I specialize in watermelon carvings and fruit displays, or acute displays. Father of four and husband. That’s pretty much me summed up. Right. How old are your kids?
I have almost eight year old. She’ll be eight in a week. And then I have a five, a two year old and a nine month old. So you’ve got your hands full. Yeah, things are very hectic.
All right, so tell me a little bit about what you’re doing right now with the casino, the garmage. How did you get into that? Yeah, so I just recently got promoted to that position a couple of weeks ago, actually. But I had worked in our banquet department before out here and just kind of played around with that stuff a little bit. Just kind of making all of our fruit displays and stuff just a little bit nicer looking and wasn’t ever really too much of a serious thought, but I always enjoyed doing it, so I kind of kept playing around with it.
And then eventually we got some different executive directors and stuff in here, and they liked what they were seeing, so they decided to go ahead and put me in that position full time and have them let that be my main focus. Nice. So how did you get into cooking in general? In high school, I started out in fast food, like a lot of teenage kids do. I enjoyed cooking at home as a hobby, but didn’t ever really think of it too much as a career.
Then in my eyes, about 2021, I had a job interview out here at the casino, and it was for a kitchen job, and I didn’t really want to be in food and beverage, but took the job anyways because after my probationary period, I would be able to transfer to a different department. So that was the plan, but got in the kitchen, ended up falling in love with it, went to culinary school and just went from there. Started as a line cook, and then it was only three or four months in. They went ahead and promoted me to a lead line cook. And after about two years, two, three years of doing that, they promoted me to sous chef in the cafe that I was working at at the time.
Right on. So what was that moment? Let’s go back a little bit to when you just took the job and you were getting ready to you wanted to transfer out, but you fell in love. Was there something specific that you can remember that just said, hey, this is it? I think part of it, a lot of it was just the chaos.
It just amazed me how chaotic it was. But everything was so in sync and just flowed amazingly. And I just found it amazing that we could just cook for a living. No, I get it. As I say, there’s probably something addicting.
To the controlled camps. I’ve always known that I don’t want to be sitting behind a desk or something like that. That was never something I could see myself doing, so I just kind of right on. Where did you go to school? I actually did online courses through Ascotia.
Okay, I’ve seen that. Yeah. What did you think of that? It’s pretty cool. It’s obviously can’t be as indepth as in person culinary school, but it’s a lot of pictures and videos and very detailed descriptions of taste and stuff like that.
There’s a whole chart that they provide you with taste descriptions and stuff. So it’s a pretty interesting class or course. They have a menu class and a couple of business classes and stuff like that. So if you’re not somewhere where you can actually go in person to a culinary school, it’s the next best thing. Okay, so you would recommend it to someone else?
Yeah, if that’s the way that they want to go. Because obviously you don’t have to go to culinary school. That’s not always the way people need to go to be amazing chefs. I just wanted to do it to advance my knowledge and stuff a little bit more. Yeah, absolutely.
I think that’s the biggest misconception about any kind of culinary school or education where people think they’re coming out just going to be the next I don’t know who they think they’re going to be, but it’s really just about establishing foundations to grow upon. Yeah, absolutely. Right on. So, watermelon carvings. I see that quite a bit on your social media.
You kind of mentioned that a few times too. So what got you into carving fruit? Yeah, like I said before, I was working on our banquet department, and I don’t even really remember how I came across seeing that stuff somewhere and being like, this is what we need to start doing. I just started playing around with it, just doing basic flowers and basic designs and stuff and got to where I could do those fairly decently and then started doing business logos and stuff for different companies that came through for banquets and yeah, it just went from there. That’s kind of my specialty now, is doing, like, logos and Wording and stuff like that.
That’s pretty cool because, honestly, when it comes to that garbage side of things and it’s so much more than just putting meat and cheese on a plate, which I think just is kind of what a lot of people associate it with. But there’s a whole art to it. Yeah, absolutely.
When it comes to some of this watermelon or carvings and some of the sculpture work, it’s almost a lost start because a lot of hotels and casinos well, I shouldn’t say casinos, but hotels in general seem to be moving away from anything. That what I would consider, like, time. I don’t know, something that takes a lot of time.
Yeah, absolutely. Because we’ve had garbage chefs out here before that did that stuff and they did away with the position and stuff. I’m curious, like, what it was that you saw or found or what part of the carvings that just said, man, this is fun, I enjoy this because my side, if it came to me, I would look at it and just be kind of like, Fuck me.
What part of you was just like, Hell, yeah, let’s do this, and really got it kind of got into it because it’s you know, everything we do is very passion oriented. Right. So think part of it’s the fact that it it forces me to slow down. You know, my my life is constantly go go, you know, work and four kids and all that. So whenever I’m doing a carving, it just forces me to just stop.
And that’s all I’m focused on. When I get into it, I put my headphones on and play some music, and I just can go for several hours without ever even looking up. So it just really it’s almost like I get into, like, a Zen mode or something whenever I’m doing it. Right. It’s almost like your own little meditation.
Yeah. What’s the average time it takes to do a carving? It just kind of depends on how intricate it is. Usually two to 3 hours. What happens if you screwed up?
That just depends on how bad I screw up. Sometimes if it’s a little mistake, I can work around it and figure out something to kind of hide it or make it blend in, whatever in which it’s not really noticeable. But there’s been times where I’ve been three, four of the way through carving and then realized, man, that part was not supposed to be cut out. And then I got to start over because I can’t fix that. Right.
So the next part. You mentioned kind of offline here, that you wanted to kind of start learning some ice carving. Yeah. So that’s kind of the next venture. We’re going to bring in some ice carving tools and bring in some blocks of ice and just kind of start playing around with it like I did watermelons and see what I can do and trying to start doing that in house.
Okay. Are they buying ice carvings right now? Not, like, on a regular basis. For some of our VIP events and stuff? They have brought in an ice carbon and had them do some stuff, but it’s not, like, on a regular basis.
That’s pretty few and far between. But having one in house that can do it, all of our big events and stuff, we could start making it a more regular thing. No, I get it. Yeah, it was ice carving as well. That’s just one of those.
Not a lot of people out there that do that. Yeah. So something about a chainsaw and a block of ice. That is always kind of all right. Yeah.
The only thing I’ll have to get used to is just working in the cold because I’m not very cold friendly. Yeah. Well, I’m sure at a certain point, you get over that part. Yeah. I’m sure you get accustomed to it after a while.
So what inspires you? What drives you every day to kind of go in and just be like, hell, yeah, let’s do this. Yeah. My biggest inspiration, I’d have to say, is definitely my wife and kids. They want to make me be a better husband, dad, chef, man all around.
So I know that I got to get up every day and bust ass. So that way they’ll have a good future ahead of them. Right on. Is there anything online, like food related or things you’ve seen where you aspire to or chase after outside of the family? Yes, I want to keep advancing in my chef career.
Right now, I’m obviously just kind of really getting into the garmers stuff, so I’m going to do that for a while and try and really become an expert on that stuff. And then who knows where we’ll go from there. I plan on being at the casino probably for quite a while until my kids are out of school and stuff, so I’m going to be here a long time. So there’s always room for advancement here as far as moving into executive chef bar and stuff like that. Yeah, no, casino is not going anywhere.
Yeah. So everybody’s kind of got that moment that they kind of questioned everything, where you’re just kind of like, what the hell am I doing? What have I got myself into? Have you had that moment? Have you had it yet?
And if so, is that something you want to share? Almost every day, I have that moment. No, there’s definitely been times where working and being stuck in the cafe, cooking burgers and chicken fried steak and stuff every single day and just non stop tickets. And I’m just like, didn’t feel like my career was really going anywhere. And so I just see all these other positions in the casino, car dealers and stuff like that, that are working three or four days a week and taking home twice as much, if not more than I was.
And it’s just like, man, is this really what I want to do? But I just stuck through any of those moments and just knew that if I put up with all the bullshit and stuff, it would start paying off and getting this garmerge position and stuff. It’s obviously kind of starting to pay off. So definitely happy I stuck through it. Yeah, it definitely seems like you’ve kind of found your little niche in the kitchen as well.
Yeah, definitely. So tell me about some of your VIP events. I mean, you kind of mentioned that whether it’s ice carving and stuff, like offline, we were talking and I said that the one shift no one really talks about. You mentioned the VIP events. Yeah.
So they have the renewal events for them, which is just once a year. We have big VIP events all through the year. But there’s one, they have one every October, and it’s like the biggest event of the year. And it’s two weekends, friday, Saturday, Sunday, two weekends in a row. And it’s like 2000 people each weekend that we’re doing these events for.
And so it’s just those two weeks are just brutal. Everybody is working six, seven days a week and working just stupid hours sometimes. And all these VIP people, you’re in the events and they just, you know, I’m sure you probably know how some VIP people can be. They’re not always the easiest to deal with sometimes, but it’s just a really grueling two weeks. And the other venues in the casino, they get short staff because we have to pool them and the chefs from those venues to help with these events and stuff.
And it’s hectic. Yeah, I don’t miss some of those events. And it’s funny. Like the VIP people, there are two types of VIPs. One that are just kind of used to it.
It is what it is. And they might have some awkward demands or high maintenance stuff, but for the most part they’re fairly chill. And then you’re going to have the other ones that it’s probably the first time they’ve ever been considered a VIP. Yeah. And so they go into it like, I’m going to use the fuck out of this.
And they’re just like, how far can I go with this? And it’s just like, just don’t be a dick. Come on. Yeah, exactly. Sometimes I don’t understand it’s.
Like, we’re just here to make you all happy and feed you all and take care of you. You could just treat everybody a little bit nicer, but yes, if it weren’t for those people, we wouldn’t have jobs.
But yeah, those VIP people, man, like you said, there’s a really awesome, really chill one and then you got the exact opposite of that. But at the end of those events, no matter how worn out and tired you are and stuff, you always feel really accomplished because you always pull off this awesome event that none of the guests see behind the scenes and stuff. Everything that’s going wrong and all the craziness that happens before these events, they always go out smoothly and without a hitch and stuff. So it’s pretty magical. That’s a great way to put it.
Magical. I mean, you’re spot on there because it’s all the work and all the planning and then just day of it’s kind of like all that prep work you put into the big game and you’re just executing, you’re following through and you’re going to have the hiccups. But you’ve got all your planning done, so you’re prepared for the call those audibles when you need them. And then afterwards, you’re right. It’s just magical because you just feel fantastic afterwards.
I’ve never done events of that scale, especially back to back, but I know when it comes to putting a large event together. But I always remember the next day, I was pretty much dead to the world.
Mentally. I was just done. I just didn’t have anything left. I just woke up and it was just fucking much. And it was just everything just kind of I put everything into it and it was just going.
And then I went to bed and everything shut off. And I woke up and I was just like, I need to do it. Yeah, after those two back to back weekends, everybody tries to take two, if not three days. If they can do it off that following week. Yeah, if you can do it, that’s a big ask for a large group of people.
So your biggest concerns facing the industry today, whether it’s hotels, restaurants, this is kind of a big question for a lot of people because post COVID things are different. Yeah, definitely. They’re very different.
And there’s some adaptations. Adaptions audibles will go with Audibles. There’s some audibles we’ve had to kind of call that have become kind of permanent and we’re still kind of working through a lot of different things. But what is your biggest concern? What do you see is this industry facing that’s just kind of like you’re like, oh, shit, how are we going to get through?
This is kind of a collective.
Yeah, so here locally at least, anyways, that’s definitely one of our biggest concerns is just getting employees, people that actually want to be in the kitchen and not just take it as a job and then move on in six months.
It’s been a constant struggle since we reopened from COVID And that’s going on like, what? Almost two years now that we’ve been back open. So it’s everywhere around here. All the restaurants and stuff here locally are short staffed. And even the whole of our restaurants in the casino are constantly short staffed.
Our banquets department right now, I mean, we’re running with like, five people. So it’s a struggle. Yeah, because the guests and your people coming in, they’ve got their expectations. Regardless of what you have available. Have you had to make some adjustments on menus and what you can do.
For them not really being at the casino, no matter what, they have expectation of our standards of what especially our banquets team is to put out. And so when we need help, the other venues are good about lending as cooks and chefs and stuff to help us execute things. That’s one awesome thing about being in a casino.
It’s not all on you. You have an executive team behind you to help you out, and you have multiple other venues that are, you know, that consider you all one team that, you know, will lend a hand when needed. I got you. That helps quite a bit, I’m sure. Yeah, definitely.
Now, when it comes to staffing, what do you think it is with your specific situation or the casino that struggles with staffing? And I ask this because staffing is a very it’s become kind of a tricky question or concern because there’s people that didn’t want to come back to the restaurants or whatever the hospitality will say for a lot of reasons. A lot of cooks didn’t want to come back just because of a lot of work, a lot of pay, and some cooks just found other jobs when things were closed and just never came back. Some people say it was the toxic culture, which I don’t know if I necessarily buy into that too much, but what is it that you think it is? Why people aren’t coming back?
And has your hotel or have you guys done anything to try to address that? Yeah, I think at least for here anyways. One of the hardest things about getting people to work in the kitchen is they see these other jobs that are available at the casinos, car dealers and cage cashiers and stuff like that, that are only working three or four days a week and take home quite a bit more money. So they’re like, well, why would I want to bust my ass five, six days a week, 810, sometimes twelve more hours, and take home shit for money when I could go learn how to deal cards for a few. Weeks and then work four days a week for, you know, probably less than 8 hours and be taken home, you know, upwards of, you know, $80,000 a year.
So that’s definitely one struggle that we have had here, for sure. But the casino, whenever we reopen from COVID they were offering higher on incentives, like $500 or $1,000 bonus. I can’t remember which one it was. But, you know, they’re offering on A, you know, higher on bonus and stuff for it to try and get more associates into the F and B department. Right.
Has your base pay increased since then? Not yours specifically, but just kind of yeah. I can’t remember if the minimum wage starting out here for the casino, if it raised, it was either right before COVID happened or right after. But they did right around all the time the pandemic and stuff was happening. They raised the base pay for cooks and stuff.
So I think starting out, it’s like between 13 and $15 an hour right now, I think. So it’s pretty decent for starting out. Cook job definitely more than what I made whenever I started as a line cook. No, I mean, even then, when I started as a lion cook a long time ago, man, I was probably $9, $10 an hour. Yeah, I think mine was, but we’re.
Talking over 20 years ago. So the fact that we’re only yeah, the fact that after 20 years, it’s only gone up $5 to me, that’s concerning. Yeah, right. But this is also something that I dealt with with my restaurants and the ownership group and try to talk to them about pay rates. And it was just man, it was kind of sad where some of that was.
Yeah, it’s almost like our cooks and stuff, it’s not really like we’re looked down upon or anything, but almost. It’S. Almost like people don’t think that working in a kitchen is so difficult that we should make a decent wage. Yeah, it’s kind of sad where the cooks has started out as kind of I don’t want to call it a profession. It wasn’t necessarily profession.
The chefs were the profession. The cooks were kind of a stop gap, if you will. It was just kind of where people were they were cooking because they were just in between jobs or didn’t have anything else. And so I think that’s where the pay came from, maybe. But it’s amazing how many people don’t realize that it is such a learned skill that it is incredibly valued just to maintain your people and not have to continue to retrain people just for retention purposes.
Yeah, definitely. And you see places like McDonald’s and stuff, like starting out at, like $17 an hour. You know some places now, and it’s like, well, shit, you know, these guys are like, I can just go flip hamburgers and drop some fries and a fryer at McDonald’s for more than what I’m making. Busting my ass on this hotline every day.
That’s hard to argue with, right? Yeah. Some of them I’m like, well, I honestly can’t blame you. You got to make a living. So somewhere is going to pay you more money for what I would consider easier job, then why wouldn’t you in some cases?
Yeah. Because the restaurant can consume you in a lot of ways, and it can be kind of abusive. Not from abusive. And the fact that you’ve got chefs and everybody yelling at you, but it’s. Just the work itself.
I don’t think a lot of people realize how laborious it is to be on a 900 degree line every day. Oh, minimum. And for those that really give a shit what they’re doing, when they don’t get that recognition or when stuff starts coming back to them, or they get treated kind of that like they are that second person or the second rate citizen kind of thing, in some places, it is just so demoralizing.
And then all of a sudden, they go from that give a shit to, you know what? I could give a fuck. Yeah. Which is, unfortunately, I’ve seen that, and that’s the last thing this restaurant industry needs. Yeah.
I’ve seen a lot of wasted potential. I’ve seen a lot of line cooks. That, man, if you just would really work hard at it, you could be an amazing cook and an amazing chef someday, but they just their heart’s not in it to want to do that. We’ll wrap this up with two questions I ask everybody towards the end, all right? One tool that you cannot live without.
I would definitely just have to say my two and a half inch little tiny fruit carving knife.
It has done me well for lots of projects. Okay. And then cookbooks, whether it’s professional or not, personal, but kind of at home. What do you go to whether it’s do you read cookbooks? Yeah, I read cookbooks.
Go ahead. But what’s the ones you find yourself drawn to the most?
So pretty much anything to do with barbecuing. Obviously. I’m in the northern part of the south, but I’m in the south of barbecue is a huge thing around us, and I’ve barbecued my entire life. And so I love reading different books about that. But one cookbook, I’m currently not even really a cookbook, it’s almost more of like a textbook from the CIA that’s the Art of Charcuterie, because that’s trying to start learning how to make all my own sausages and prosciutto and stuff like that.
So that’s kind of the one I’ve had my nose in lately. Right. So, Riley new cook, starting off, what would you tell them.
If you don’t have kids and a family? Travel. Try and work in as many kitchens as you can without floating around too much and screwing jobs over by leaving them too early. But learn as much as you can.
I’m not exactly the picture perfect person to be saying this, but stay healthy.
Don’t let the underbelly of the kitchen consume you. Try and eat right. Don’t smoke, don’t drink. Don’t do drugs, because you definitely regret it later on in life. Now, when it comes to, like you mentioned, don’t drink with the drugs, that’s almost so much of the restaurant culture, the cook culture.
Why do you think that comes from. Probably a lot of it’s just because the job is so grueling sometimes got long hours. And see a lot of guys need something to keep them up and wait going during the day and then need something to put you out quick at the end of the night. Almost that it’s been glamorized and shit a little bit. So they almost see it as a lot of guys kind of see it like rock star lifestyle.
It’s definitely not worth it because we’re not rock stars. We don’t have the money to be we’re blowing on booze and drugs every day. That’s why bust your ass and earn that money for something that’s going to run your life later on. Yeah. And then also leave you broke.
Yeah, exactly. Good words. All right, Riley. Well, I really appreciate your time today, sir. Yeah, thanks for having me on, man.
I appreciate it. I enjoyed it. And thanks for listening to this episode of Inside the Pressure Cooker. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show and leave us a comment. We’d love to hear from you on how we’re doing.
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