Accessibility, Wine and New York City, with Yannick Benjamin
[00:00:00] Eli Kulp: [00:00:00] Hey everyone. Welcome back to the CHEF Radio podcast. Happy, happy new year. Welcome to 2021. Boy oh boy, excited to get the hell out of 2020. Let’s move forward. Right? One foot in front of the other. Keep marching, keep doing good, keep loving each other, appreciating each other. And we’re going to have a amazing 2021.
We are lined up for great things to happen. You know, this year, looking back on 2020, you know, it was only nine months ago that we started the CHEF Radio podcast and that’s crazy. That’s insane to me. I mean, it’s, it’s been a fun, exciting, I’ve learned so much this journey for the past nine months that we’ve been on together has been really, really special to me.
And I appreciate all of you tuning in every episode and, you know, just being a part of it, I feel like you’re a part of a community. We accomplished so much. You know, nine months we’ve had just shy of [00:01:00] 30,000 listens to the podcast. I mean, that’s crazy. I mean, thank you for everybody’s spreading the word, keep telling people more about it.
Like it. You know, do everything you can to help spread the word. I know more people can benefit from it. We’re going to continue to bring you purpose-driven content that you can learn from. You can hear these people’s journeys and be inspired by them. And, you know, today is no different. The podcasts that you’re about to listen to is with Yannick Benjamin.
Yannick is somebody who was fortunate to meet in New York after I was injured, he runs an amazing organization called Wheeling Forward. They helped so many people in similar positions and people with disabilities, and I don’t have enough thank yous in my vocabulary to express my appreciation for Yannick and his partner, Alex. They do amazing work, helping people every day. [00:02:00] So his journey is a long winding one, like many of ours. And you know, it starts in New York. He’s still in New York, born and bred, and you’re going to hear how his life was impacted and how his life had to change course and how he overcame that adversity.
And today he’s in a really great spot, about ready to open his new restaurant and I can’t say how excited I am enough to be able to share Yannick Benjamin with you all. So everybody happy, happy New Year again. Thank you so much. Look forward to the new year. It’s going to be great. And let’s kick this COVID crap to the curb, man. All right. Love you guys.
This is the CHEF Radio podcast. Each week, groundbreaking chef talks. Chef talks, uh, chef. CHEF: cooking, hospitality, environment, food. Is that really what it stands for? I never really knew that. Delivered straight from the minds of the people who shaped the way we eat. It’s hard to believe the possibility of food. And we’re going to discuss sponge cakes. These talks, these ideas and more on the CHEF Radio Podcast.
All right, everybody. Welcome back to the CHEF Radio podcast. We have an amazing guest on today. A good friend of mine who lives up in New York city. His name is Yannick Benjamin. What’s up. Yannick how are you doing?
Yannick Benjamin: [00:03:35] I’m doing great. And thank you for having me.
Eli Kulp: [00:03:38] Awesome, man. So Yannick. You are the first sommelier to be on the CHEF Radio podcast. How do you feel about that?
Yannick Benjamin: [00:03:47] Honored, I’m I’m incredibly honored. Thank you for having me. It’s it’s so this is great.
Eli Kulp: [00:03:51] Awesome man. So I’m going to tell everybody a little bit about that. I’m gonna brag about you a little bit, how special you are. Yannick [00:04:00] is the head sommelier and director of wine for Wine on Wheels. And also that has so many at the prestigious university club in New York city. How long have you been there now?
Yannick Benjamin: [00:04:10] Well over seven and a half years now.
Eli Kulp: [00:04:12] Okay cool, so you’re well established there?
Yannick Benjamin: [00:04:15] Definitely.
Eli Kulp: [00:04:16] Yannick also has worked at restaurants, such as the Cirque, Oceana, John Georges and Atlas before becoming a sommelier for Felidia and Atelier at the Ritz Carlton. Yannick has been recognized among Wine Enthusiast magazine as a top 40, under 40, and was named person of the year by the new mill-, New Mobility magazine in 2017.
If you don’t know a New Mobility is, it’s a magazine that’s kind of leading magazine for people with disabilities to great publication. They do amazing job. So Yannick is also two time national finalists and top Psalm, which is hosted by the Guild Court, master of Sommeliers, a three-time first [00:05:00] place winner at the Northeast region of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:05:04] All right, good. You did a good job. You got it. That’s a tough one.
Eli Kulp: [00:05:08] I don’t speak French. So how are you, man? What’s going on?
Yannick Benjamin: [00:05:13] Hey, listen, I’m, I’m doing great. I feel good. It’s been a, a really difficult thing complex year as for everybody else, but you know, I’m hanging in there and I’m just blessed to have a great wife, a great friends and a good support group and family.
Eli Kulp: [00:05:28] You were one of the early adopters for COVID.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:05:32] Yes, that is correct. Both myself and my wife. We, we, we both got COVID just some just pretty much the time that they shut the city down here in New York city on March 17. We both lost our sense of smell and taste. We were both in bed for a little while.
My wife. She was able to overcome it faster than I was. I probably didn’t break fever until the first week of April. So I [00:06:00] had, I was, yeah, it was really tough, but I mean, it was very bizarre and it was, you know, there were days where I’d wake up in the morning, I’d feel like, Oh, I think I’m eating, and I think I’d feel better.
And then by two, three o’clock I had fever again and I felt so exhausted. I felt beat up. But finally I think officially April 10th was the day that. Finally t, Iurned a corner, but I
Eli Kulp: [00:06:23] Did you get your sense of smell and taste and all that?
Yannick Benjamin: [00:06:26] Thank goodness I did. My wife, Heidi, she thinks that she’s still not back to where she was at before, which is just absolutely insane.
She’s still not, she’s able to smell and taste, but definitely her tastes buds and her sense of smell. It took a while for her to get back, but she was just kind of knocked out for three to four days, as far as
Eli Kulp: [00:06:48] I’ve heard that people, some people haven’t haven’t fully recovered their sense of smell and taste
Yannick Benjamin: [00:06:53] No, people have had like some post COVID you know, reactions to it that have lingered, which is, and I [00:07:00] have friends, you know, headaches and just feeling tired and weight gain, and this really terrible to hear. I feel lucky.
Eli Kulp: [00:07:06] Good man. At least you got it over quickly, man. Then you had injured yourself, right? Broken leg, like,
Yannick Benjamin: [00:07:14] yeah. Yeah. That’s a good question. You know, April 10th and then after that I got myself back into a rhythm. Feeling great again. And then on the morning of May 4th, I was working out and I fractured the neck of my femur and I said all, thank God.
I can’t believe this is, this is insane. You can’t make this stuff up. When I was really more so concerned about, was having to go to the emergency room during the height of COVID. And what, what was going to happen? How I was going to be treated. I thought it was going to be chaos. But in actuality, when I got there, the nurses, the doctors, they were on it, I never waited in the ER.
They took me on, I have to say, took really good care of me. And I got surgery [00:08:00] on May 5th. So May 4th is when I got injured, May 5th is when I got the surgery and they discharged me on it and may 8th. So I have to say, despite the circumstances, overall the experience at the hospital and then the surgery, it was very good.
Eli Kulp: [00:08:17] Nice. And now, like, I mean, 2020 has been such a weird year for me where I like there’s so many milestones that people are, are hitting, like in their, in their career, in their life. People getting married, having kids everything’s doled because of, you know, this lingering effect of COVID. Now you’re having a dream come true at the same time as Contento, right? Like this something you’ve been working on for a long time.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:08:43] Yeah. I mean, as you know, already as a, as a fellow restauranteur, and someone that’s been in this industry that lives in breeds it and loves it. And it’s very rare that, you know, you have an opportunity to actually be part of something to create it from the bottom to the [00:09:00] top.
And things are going well. I mean, obviously, you know, as you know, already the bureaucracy and for having to open up a restaurant in New York city, or anywhere is not easy, there’s a lot of moving parts and this was a year. This was going to be the year that we were going to open up. And then sure enough, we started hearing rumblings, you know, in February that this coal, you know, there’s co coronavirus and it’s, it’s hitting.
Asia, particularly China. And then it started coming into Italy and we’re like, Holy crap. Like it’s only a matter of time that it’s going to come here, but then we didn’t know what, to, what extent was going to be ensure enough of everything was put on hold. So we were almost at the end of construction and sure enough, you know, of the city and there was a mandate.
No more indoor dining. The city was putting their full shutdown, which, you know, of course we understood, but that was on March 16th, March 17th. And of course we were not able to do any kind of construction, not until like late June, [00:10:00] I’m not mistaken. And so we’re, we’re pretty much at the final step where we can open up, but for what, you know, why would we open up, you know, just it just doesn’t make sense.
So we’re just, we’re, we’re waiting to get more clarification cause we’re, we’re afraid to, we open up only the shut down, it’s just going to set us back even more.
Eli Kulp: [00:10:19] No, you guys decided to open Contento up in East Harlem, right? One 11th street. Is that correct?
Yannick Benjamin: [00:10:27] Yeah. We’re on 88 East 111th street between Park and Madison.
And it’s, it’s a great location. There’s a lot of construction
Eli Kulp: [00:10:34] happening. There’s going to say, what does that area look like? I lived at 90 at 31st for quite a while, as I know, I know kind of that area, you know, kind of Spanish Harlem area a little bit, what is what’s going on? Like gentrification?
Like, is it, is it completely different than it was 10 years ago? Or is it still kind of maintaining the soul of the neighborhood?
Yannick Benjamin: [00:10:56] Yeah, that’s a, that’s a great question. So we’re actually like [00:11:00] officially on the border of like where the Upper East Side end and where East Harlem begins, or it’s kind of a very interesting area.
We certainly don’t want the soul and the character of East Harlem to lose. I mean, that’s such an essential part of what that neighborhood is all about. It’s such a beautiful place. There’s so many characters and so much personality out there. But it’s interesting. Now we’re in COVID right. And action directly across the street.
And right next to us, there’s massive construction happening. Right. Which is a good thing for our business, because that means that there’s going to be more people moving in and we’re going to have more business. However, you know, we don’t know what the future holds only for the fact that Manhattan is going to be a different place.
Whether, you know, I don’t care what anyone says. And so are people actually going to be moving into these units? What’s what’s the future hold, but we’ve always. How that philosophy that we are going to be a neighborhood restaurant. We’re a small place, you [00:12:00] know, and we certainly hope that people, whether you live in a fancy high rise down the block, or you live in, you know, government or housing projects, But you still feel that you’re, you feel comfortable enough to come into our restaurant and it’s portable.
So that’s, that’s the goal. That’s the objective. We’re not trying to appease to one kind of population or demographic. We want it to be open to everybody. That’s
Eli Kulp: [00:12:25] great. And I think a lot of people I was just a really amazing panel with some chefs and I think. So many restaurants are starting to think more inclusive.
I know inclusivity is really important to you as well as me for a lot of reasons. And I think that’s really the. Pairing food and hospitality with social impact messaging with inclusivity messaging, you know, creating a space that brings people together to understand each other, [00:13:00] which I think is always great. You know, I think that’s really what the, the, the future of restaurants looks like in my mind. So,
Yannick Benjamin: [00:13:10] yeah, I completely agree with you completely
Eli Kulp: [00:13:14] before we get too far down the road, because I do want to talk about the restaurant a little bit later on,
Yannick Benjamin: [00:13:18] of course,
Eli Kulp: [00:13:19] what’s your background and tell everybody kind of where you’re from. Where’d you get your start in the industry?
Yannick Benjamin: [00:13:24] Sure. I’m born and raised in a neighborhood called Hell’s Kitchen, which is on the West side of Manhattan. You know, I. I fell asleep, staring at the empire state building, you know, so pretty much when I saw the lights shut off, I knew it was probably getting late and it was time for me to go to bed.
Both of my parents are from France friendship reverence and they both were involved with the hospitality industry and my father, along with his two uncles and my cousin, they all made a career in the business. My father, he spent the last 20 years or so working at a famous restaurant that a lot of people who are [00:14:00] listening may not know of, but they should look it up.
It’s called Detest with Andre Soltner and my other uncle was Maitre’d general manager at Grenouille for, well over a year. 30 years. I had a cousin who was a chef at Pier le Gor up until when they closed a few years ago
Eli Kulp: [00:14:23] FOr the listeners out there these were the establishment of French cuisine in New York city that, or I’d say three or four generations ago you know, early 19 hundreds to the 1950s sixties, you know, these, this is the lineage.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:14:43] I often
Eli Kulp: [00:14:43] refer to when you know that the built the foundation for what cuisine is today in America, you know, these high end French dining rooms that had the classic service, you know, that were there. They were [00:15:00] the two groundbreaking restaurants then because that’s where people refer to as fine dining.
So many of us up until, I would say the late nineties, early two thousands, that’s all we knew and find out what the French were doing or the French trained chefs were doing like Thomas Keller and those types. So that’s amazing. That’s some amazing blood you got in here.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:15:25] Yeah. And you know, of course, you know, like any immigrant who comes to this country, they’re, they’re hopeful that their kids go on to be a lawyer or a doctor or you know, something in finance, you know, I call her. Yeah, exactly. You know, instead I kind of like at a very young age, I actually just fell in love with the concept of food and wine and serving and being around people. And I’d say probably by the age of 13, 14 years old, I, I committed myself to being in the hospitality [00:16:00] industry. And I started working very young in that industry and I loved it. I
Eli Kulp: [00:16:03] love it. What are some some childhood memories that kind of come up when you start thinking about reminiscing about those days early on helping your, your dad or your uncle or whoever you know, in the kitchen or in the dining room, like what, what pops up in your mind?
Yannick Benjamin: [00:16:19] So the first one is I’m not a cook. And I don’t cook much, to be honest with you, but I love food, but my mother’s food, I mean just a tremendous quote, you know, so much love and so much passion behind it. Having the Sunday gatherings with the family, with my uncles there and hearing them talk about the restaurant business and hearing in gossip, I thought just sounded so exciting and so intriguing and then going to restaurants and then go visiting my family there and then just particular smell of the restaurant and then go into the kitchen.
I don’t know. Just something that just, just, it just, you know, there’s certain emotions that you can’t explain. And I guess I can’t explain that, but there was a [00:17:00] certain excitement that was woken within myself every time I was around that. And then it just, it just felt right for sure. And that’s, that’s the path that I followed and I never looked back.
Eli Kulp: [00:17:11] Yeah, honestly, in this business, you know, working up there for roughly 10 years of living up there even longer,
I don’t meet too many real New Yorkers. Like in this business, you know, cause so many of us, you know, like myself come to New York city to learn how to cook with the big boys. Right. Like I made a point that I wanted to move from Seattle to New York because I didn’t know if I was going to stay there forever. I didn’t know that I was going to be an East coaster eventually.
However, you know, that’s why I came there. And obviously in the front of the house, you have all your artists, you have all your actors or singers or dancers.
Yeah, everybody that’s, it’s not their real [00:18:00] career, but you growing up early on, you were like, this is going to be my career. So there’s, there’s not too many generational hospitality workers either, because like you said, you know, your parents immigrate and then they, they so often will push you to be that you know, get out, get the hell out of this crazy business we’re in.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:18:23] Right. Absolutely. It’s a philosophy of like, you’ve got to try and do better than your parents and all that, but they never listened. They knew how much I loved it. They knew how much I, I, I devoted time, my free time to like studying wine and food and, and all that stuff. So they never bothered me about it, but yeah, for
Eli Kulp: [00:18:39] sure.
That’s great, man. I’m sure you feel looking back, you feel very fortunate to kind of grow up that way.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:18:48] Absolutely. I mean, it opened up the door to so many things, you know, I met some of the most interesting people. I’ve traveled to places that I’ve never would have traveled. And it’s just, I think in life, You need that sense of [00:19:00] purpose, right?
I think it’s so crucial. It’s so important. And the fact that I can, I wake up every day and listen, like everybody, we have good days and we have bad days. I I’m very blessed to have a lot of good days, but. You know, I think those bad days that you have where you feel like you don’t want to do anything, but then you go in and you just get reinvigorated.
And I think that’s what allows me. I don’t think that even if you gave me a very high paying job and you know, I was working in finance or something where I would have to push a button or be in front of the screen all day, I think that would really affect me to be quite honest with you. So I’m happy that I’m doing something that I love. It’s not easy. It’s very difficult. It’s complicated. You would know better than anyone.
Eli Kulp: [00:19:41] So, how are you surviving? Somebody who’s who’s so used to being kind of star the dining room and kind of going around pouring wine and talking to people. I mean, you haven’t done that in a while. Do you feel that that, that pull like everybody else does and so many of us do. [00:20:00] So
Yannick Benjamin: [00:20:00] I was very lucky that I, I have not stopped working since the shutdown, but there’s been a lot of these wine webinars doing a lot of member engagement because at the university club, we are a private club and other, and other consulting gigs that I’ve been doing. So that’s been keeping me busy, but it’s still not the same human interaction that you see face-to-face is not the same thing can’t be replicated.
And then I went back to work on September 30th when they lifted the restrictions of indoor dining. And so from September 30, up until recently, I was working serving wine and doing all that fun stuff and then they shut down the city again. And so that that’s been a real blow. You know, it’s just really kind of keeping that stimulation with the webinars and, you know, keeping myself busy with just studying and improving myself in other skillsets.
But it’s not easy. It’s certainly not easy for sure. I’ve been busy too, trying to get this restaurant up and running too as well and working on other projects, but
Eli Kulp: [00:20:57] it’s a different world. I think, you know, [00:21:00] something that is a littlebit unspoken in our industry because of course it always flies under the radar is how people are dealing with such a drastic change to their lives mentally, right. You know, just the, as far as mental illness or depression, so many.
And, you know, I would say that I’m in that category at times because I’m, I’m being careful with COVID and that means kind of limiting your exposure. So. Yeah, that’s one of those things where it can be difficult at times. I know it’s having a big impact on people. So as far as wine goes, like when did you know that this was going to be your, your purpose, your passion? How
Yannick Benjamin: [00:21:42] I got into wine was my mother won first, first off she’s from Bordeaux. And I would spend my summers in Bordeaux and, and when I was younger, I went to a couple, you’d go visit wineries.
You go buy the wines directly from the winery. And I was at this one winery called a shuts OCI school. That’s a very [00:22:00] famous winery. And I just remember being in that wine, I said, I love that smell of fermentation. And there was just something about that lifestyle. Plus the fact that I already loved food and then I wanted to be in hospitality, then it kind of all melded together.
But I would say, you know, in New York city or even in the hospitality industry, in the United States in general, There that position of the sommelier did not exist until like in the late nineties. And the first sommelier was Kevin Zureali from Windows in the World and you had a protege that became the wine director at the Cirque 2000 during the late nineties, people were just spending money outrageously.
And so they, this was served. This was the first one that they had a wine director. He was an American wine director, was a young guy and he pretty much took me under his wings. And I said, That’s the job that I want to do, you know, that’s, that’s exactly. I want to be around people. I want to talk about something that I love.
And so I started taking classes. I think I was like 18 or 19. And so [00:23:00] that’s how it all started. To be honest with
Eli Kulp: [00:23:01] you as a server or?
Yannick Benjamin: [00:23:06] Yeah, I started off, I went in for an interview with my father who basically grabbed me by the wrist, you know, because I went to college, got kicked out of college and drained poorly because my father wanted me to try college at least.
And I taught what I want. My plan was to go to an actual trade school at the hospitality school, go on there for a year and a half. Or go to Europe and he was like, at least try regular college first. Sure enough. I went to regular college, did not do well at all. Got kicked out and then was circle was just about to open and he’s like, you’ve got to get a job.
You’re going to work in restaurants. You’ve got to work at the best. So he took me in, he, you know, at that time everybody knew each other. Right. And so, you know, serial machine only who was the owner at the time recently passed away. Interviewed me. He said he was like, okay, well, if you want to be an idiot, like my son soon decided to work in the restaurant business, I’m going to be really hard on you.
So they, [00:24:00] he hired me as a as a busboy slash bar back of the bar lounge area. And then within like six months, I got promoted as a food runner and it was just insane. And it was just like, it was really crazy.
Eli Kulp: [00:24:13] I mean, Le Cirque again, absolute a hall of fame restaurant. Yeah. You know from, I think there were Italian, right?
The family was Italian. However, they were, they were masters of, you know, sort of producing French cuisine or the hospitality. Cause you know, even the Italian, nobody wanted Italian food. There was no high end Italian food. Right. So Italians were trained on these, on these ships, cruise ships and trained in this, this level of, of, of, you know, dining that was, was the respectable cuisine, because Italian food was peasant food, you know, so, you know, he is, he is a [00:25:00] godfather and the fact that you work so closely with them, I did not know that that’s an incredible story.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:25:06] Yeah, no, he, he I mean, he, you know, he had a complete you know, total impact on my life. And and his sons were wonderful. The family was incredible. And that time spent, there was, it was really one of the, you don’t realize it until you get older and you look back and you’re like, it was just an incredible time. And looking at all the incredible chefs that came out of there, you know, Danielle Ballou David Boulay, Jeffrey’s Zukenny.
And I mean, and I’m leaving some other people out, but a lot of really fantastic chefs that work there. I mean, it definitely was an incredible school to go to.
Eli Kulp: [00:25:40] Yeah. I think even up until, is it stillopen? They closed?
Yannick Benjamin: [00:25:48] They closed maybe two years ago.
Eli Kulp: [00:25:52] So what makes for those out there? What makes a good song? Like [00:26:00] what, what is it that you guys do? What’s your purpose? Like I know you guys are all crazy about wine. You know, you memorize. So many tastes so many smells. You know, you have these competitions, but what the hell is a good song?
Like what do you need to, what do you need to do to be a
Yannick Benjamin: [00:26:15] somme? Well, I think first off you have to have the ability. I mean, I find it always strange when sommelier tell, tell me that they’re introverted, right? You definitely can’t be introverted, you know? And you can’t be the type of guy that just likes to study about wine.
First off, it’s not just about wine. There’s beer involved, there’s cocktails or Sake, whiskeys, the world of spirits. And then you have to like understand food ingredients. Right. But I think the most important thing as a sommelier in a restaurant, you have to be able to create an experience, whether it’s for someone that’s going to buy a bottle of $40 to someone that’s going to buy a bottle of a thousand dollars to create a unique experience.
Not, I think that’s the most important thing. And I feel [00:27:00] like sometimes. Like the obsession of trying to obtain so much knowledge overshadows the importance of the customer and making sure that they get the best service as possible. Not still really good. That’s the, that’s the key. And also, you know, listen, as a solely, you’ve gotta be able to understand numbers.
You’ve got to be able to understand how to run a beverage program, making sure that it’s profitable. I mean, all that geeky, memorization and knowledge is important. It’s great. Right. But at the end of the day, if you can’t run a beverage program and make it profitable, then everything else is secondary. It means nothing personally.
Eli Kulp: [00:27:42] So your role at the university club you’re running much of the, or all of the, the beverage program.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:27:51] Yeah. I mean, my focus at the university club, it’s a bit unique a bit different than what, you know, your average establishment would be, but definitely I’m much more [00:28:00] heavy-handed and focused on the wine program and itself because it’s such a bigger place.
It’s 10 floors. It almost operates like a really big hotel. But you know, before anything else, because we’re a private members club. The member ship comes first. So again, making sure that they get everything that they need, but they’re happy that they leave happy because remember, it’s not like a restaurant.
If you screw up, you’re gonna more than likely you’re going to have to see them again. So you want to make sure that you’re on your toes. So you’re not taking anything for granted and you create a really nice experience and they’ll let you know, because when you’re working out a private club, It’s almost as if they own a part of it in many ways they do.
Right. They’re paying a membership fee. So you want to make sure that you treat them right. Because they’ll let you know right then and there, if you’re not doing something right.
Eli Kulp: [00:28:49] Oh yeah. They’re not shy.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:28:50] They’re not shy.
Eli Kulp: [00:28:52] Yeah, for sure. Who are some of the more memorable people that you’ve had the opportunity to
Yannick Benjamin: [00:28:57] give hospitality to.
[00:29:00] You know, as far as like, you know, really, you know, famous people or whatever people that have, you know, some kind of a prestige or I don’t know what you want to call it. You know, there were, there were, there was a funny situation that I was involved in. We have a, we had a station was circled the Royal station, right.
Which is a VIP station. That’s where they put everybody in. And on one table we had Donald Trump on the other table we had Ivanka Trump, you know, and I guess at that time they weren’t getting along too well. And Ivanka Trump had her, she was dating or she was seeing a young Italian boxer and he was with some kind of business associates,
It was a kind of a werid dynamic, I always remember it I always for that. And you know, you know, especially at that time where it was the height of like the socialites, the upper East side socialites and all that, you always have that kind of control that. I mean, it was always interesting. Sometimes you’d have people come into the VIP session mending kind of like, why are they at my table?
And we’re like, [00:30:00] Oh, but you’re still the VIP, you know, so. Trying to really control egos, you know, and of course nobody ever ordered off the menu. It was
Eli Kulp: [00:30:08] always kind of, they always created their
Yannick Benjamin: [00:30:10] own menu. I will say, you know, I’ll tell you one really funny story. I’ll go. This is at the time when I was working with under Paul Liebrandt.
And this was like at the beginning of molecular cuisine at Atlas restaurant and he had just gotten three stars. He was the youngest chef to get three stars from the New York times. Excuse me. And I was not familiar with, it was just still fairly new. And I was struggling the whole night. I’m taking orders.
I’m like, Oh my God, this is, so this is, and of course, like he was a young chef today. Things were going every day, there was always a menu that was 86, then know it was just like, it was so insane. And so we had this party of six and I was taking care of, and they’re asking me a million questions and I’m just like, I’m doing the best that I can.
And in some instances I’m winging it, you know? And finally at the end of the [00:31:00] meal, the mother. Yeah, she was fairly young, I’d say, but like, she comes up to me and she said, I know you were trying your best, but perhaps you should consider a career as being a Chippendale.
She was trying to have a sense of humor, but she was also kind of like telling me, like, maybe I should think of another career path, but I had nothing to say. Cause I said, you know, what, if you’re going to insult me, that’s a pretty good
Eli Kulp: [00:31:35] And what you guys have to deal with in the front of the house compared to like the back of the house, like we have, you know, we have our our, our challenges, no doubt, managing people, especially people. Everybody thinks they’re the most important person in the room. That’s a whole different ballgame.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:31:54] listen, I mean, working in the back of the house as a cook, as a chef, whatever you want to [00:32:00] call it as a Porter, as a dishwasher, I mean, that is a, a really, you know, tough job. And I would say the advantages that we have at the front of the house is if, when we screw up. We hear about it, but when we do a good job, you know, you, you get that compliment from the actual guests.
Whereas you guys, you don’t get the whole, like, you know, Hey, I want to let you know that that dish was really good. It’s nice to hear compliments. It’s nice to hear people being, you know, thanking you. And unfortunately you guys don’t get that a lot. That’s what makes your job really hard.
Eli Kulp: [00:32:31] It can be a little thankless for sure.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:32:33] Yeah, absolutely.
Eli Kulp: [00:32:36] I think, I think nowadays. Yeah, there’s a little bit more maybe communication of how things are going. We also have open kitchens now. That was something that was not a thing at all. Like you just not want that door to be open when the chef is screaming and throwing pots and pans. So yeah, you know, again, the evolution of [00:33:00] restaurants is.
It’s always, always happening.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:33:03] Can I ask you a question? What’s the future hold for people such as yourself, a young kid who wa who decides to go into the world of cooking and wants to be a chef? Is that going to change? Because I mean that, that investment of having to go to a great school, like the CIA, and then you come out there, you come out with such tremendous debt and then you’ve got to work in a major city, like New York where it’s so expensive and then you’re not getting paid.
Do you think that, you know, that that philosophy is going to change where people are just going to go under, you know, work for a top restaurant and just work their way up and do like the traditional mentorship? Like maybe like a Danielle,
Eli Kulp: [00:33:40] right. I honestly, I don’t know. However, I have a feeling that I’ve also have caught wind of other people hearing or seeing this where.
There’s less people going into culinary schools. Yeah, because now it’s [00:34:00] exposed restaurants as another, just another fault is that it’s, it’s unpredictable. Like what if a pandemic hits in five years from now a different one, you know? And now everybody’s out of work again and you know, there’s not enough restaurants to employ the people that are coming out of school.
I think, I think. You know the debt if you, if you’re paying your own way through, you know, that pressure of living in New York city and still making it happen and working for, let’s say, now you have to work. I think it’s $15 minimum wage, which is great. When I was cooking, it was a hundred dollars a shift, you know, so it was a little bit different, but I think that’s what, that’s what like makes us, that’s what makes us strong and, and fighting that fight and, you know, the craziness of New York city and the, you know, the pressure and just getting to, and from work commuting, you know, an hour out of the out, you know, whether it’s in [00:35:00] Jersey or.
Or Brooklyn or somewhere in the Bronx, you know, all this pressure, all this stress, this it’s almost like you’re in a, you’re in a pressure chamber when you’re in those earlier years is five or 10 years. It’s almost like the pressure on a diamond almost, you know, that that makes a diamond, what it is that time.
It wouldn’t make that brilliance wouldn’t be able to shine if it did not have all that pressure. So I hope, and I think there will be, I think there’ll be less of them. So the people that do. Still put themselves in these positions to, to learn and kind of be maniacal about their career path. I think they’re still gonna be there.
I don’t know how much, how much less, how many less.
Everybody just want take a quick break. I want to introduce you to our new sponsor for the chef radio podcast. I’m talking about Maxwell McKinney. Maxwell McKenny is a [00:36:00] group based right here in Philadelphia. They’ve been here for a long time and they represent many of the most iconic brands in the restaurant kitchen today, I’m talking about Roboque, Fusion Chef sous vede equipment, Iron OX blast chillers, and even Vitamix blenders.
The reason why I’m excited to bring Maxwell McKinney on as a sponsor is because they stand for consistency and quality. Without a doubt, what I think is their most exciting new product is the dry ager. We all know there are fewer pledges greater than sitting down at gorgeous dining room and cutting into a beautiful, perfectly dry steak.
Now, imagine if you can do that while you’re running your own restaurant and you’re able to buy fresh cuts of beef or even pork and aged them in a beautiful, sleek German engineered dried refrigerator that you would want people to see. This thing is gorgeous. Well, now you can’t. It’s easy, dry ager, the world’s number one commercial and in-home dry age refrigerator has hit the shores of North America with the dry aging [00:37:00] versatility.
You’re no longer limited to just aging beef. You put ham in there, salami, charcuterie, fish, cheese, or even wine. And just like a perfectly aged wine exposed with these complex flavors. The dry major allows you to do this with meat in house. As soon as you place meat in the or unit a chemical process begins, it’s a beautiful process as natural enzymes, start to break down the tissue structures and the proteins begin to change.
A natural change. The results of meat is exceptionally tender and flavorful. And while those proteins are beginning to soften, the dry ager is wicking away. Moisture from the outside of the meat, which is forming a protective coating and intensifying the flavor of the meat, the driver controls, temperature and humidity in the chamber utilizing the natural moisture content of the food.
This is science baby. This is the real deal is engineered. To give you amazing products. And one of the coolest features of this whole [00:38:00] thing is that you can control the humidity, the temperature, whatever is best suited for that protein that you want to age. You can control it. I mean, everybody wants to control these days.
Right? You can check out some that are already in place around Philadelphia. You can see them at Primal Supply Meats at their Brewery town location. You can check it out at Di Bruno brothers in Rittenhouse, as well as studio kitchen with chef Shola. You can also check it out at dry ager usa.com and make sure if you do check it out or buy one.
Mentioned that you heard about it here on the chef radio podcast. All right, everybody. Good talk. Let’s get back to the show.
So for those out there that don’t know Yannick or know of him you and I, we have a couple of things in common. I would say restaurants, [00:39:00] one of them, right. We both work in restaurants. I found out another one. We both were to Oceana. That’s cool. And then the other one is that we both have spinal cord injuries.
Yannick is inspiring to me. You’re inspiring to me because, you know, you’ve. Taking a horrible situation and made the best out of it. And you’re a shining example of what happens when you overcome something. So basically you’re in a wheelchair just like me, but you’re in the front of the house or wheeling around you’re serving wine.
You’re taking orders. I mean, that’s, that’s, that’s incredible. Is there, is there anyone out there that you know of doing what you do at the level you are.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:39:50] Well, you know, I do not know anyone and it’s certainly possible that someone else is doing what I’m doing as far as working in a restaurant, whether it’s as a [00:40:00] manager or front of the house situation at a restaurant.
I do not know when I, when I got injured 2003 in a car accident I immediately knew that I wanted to go back into restaurants, but I knew that it was going to be complicated. As you know, already, you know, space and logistics and all that kind of stuff. And I have to be honest with you. I was given a book called United spinal network.
You might’ve gotten a book and it’s like a resource guide of like, you know, different doctors and, you know, whatever and, and different stories of people who had overcome spinal cord injury. There was a story about a young girl. And there’s a photo of her with a tray on her lap. She’s on a wheelchair with a couple of glasses and she was working at an Applebee’s in Utah. And I tried to reach out to her at the time, you know, you know, the internet wasn’t that as sophisticated as it is
Eli Kulp: [00:40:55] today,
Yannick Benjamin: [00:40:56] but it was, she inspired me because I knew that she could do it. There was no reason why I [00:41:00] could not do it. Right. And so that’s how it all came about. So to answer your question, she was the one that I, that I immediately, that immediately, that I thought of when you asked me that question, but there are other people in our industry that have other disabilities, but as one that’s in a wheelchair, that’s actually working in one, in, in a restaurant and in front of the house capacity. I do not know.
Eli Kulp: [00:41:26] That inspired you, have you ever been able to contact her?
Yannick Benjamin: [00:41:30] That’s so funny that you asked. So I, I sent her a Facebook message, maybe just like two years ago, because I had the same conversation with somebody. And I just think that she probably thought I was the weirdo cause she hasn’t responded.
I saw that she saw. And I actually, I might, I, I might reach out to her again, after I finish this call and I will let you know, I mean, I don’t want to be too persistent, but she was probably like, who is this weirdo? Like making, you know, this crazy story, but
[00:42:00] Eli Kulp: [00:41:59] regardless, I,
Yannick Benjamin: [00:42:01] hopefully she did, you know, she read it and I’d love to like meet her one day.
I really would. It’s a cool story. I think that’s
Eli Kulp: [00:42:09] great, man. I mean, there’s a good chance you would have figured it out on your own, but just getting that sort of glimpse of, okay. Alright.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:42:19] I can do this. Yeah, absolutely.
Eli Kulp: [00:42:21] Absolutely. So going back to your accident, you said you hurt in a
Yannick Benjamin: [00:42:25] car accident, right?
Eli Kulp: [00:42:27] What was, what, what, what do you remember about that day? What was like, kind of walk us through that day? What happened? You know, where were you all that. Yes.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:42:37] Normal Sunday night working at the Ritz Carlton hotel, I was working for a chef named Gabrielle criter. He has a great restaurant, one of my favorite
Eli Kulp: [00:42:45] chefs
Yannick Benjamin: [00:42:48] and great human being loves, loves the restaurant business, you know, and unfortunately he had a terrible car accident on the West side highway in New York city.
But I think what I really remember [00:43:00] right off of 96th street
And I think what I remember the most about that is being on the ground because I pulled myself out of the car. There were fumes coming in. So car, I sold up the hood of the car, you know, smoke coming out. And I didn’t, I thought immediately my instinct was to get myself out of the car and I was laying on the ground and it was raining and it was raining pretty hard, but it just felt like everything was on slow motion.
And I just remember not having control of my lower body and maybe within 30 seconds or a minute. I mean, of course time, time is irrelevant at this point. And a livery cab driver came out and he said, I’m calling the cops. Don’t move maybe a few seconds. After he had said that three or four women come running out, one of them in particular comes out with some kind of [00:44:00] makeshift blanket.
I don’t know what it was. And she just kept saying, please don’t move. Please. Don’t move. Stay still, stay still. However, what I do remember most about that is what I tried to do was I was kind of on this like slanted Hill, that’s where the car had stopped. And I decided to kind of Gramble up to go up to the side of the road.
I had no control of my lower body and my abdominal region. Well, by the time I had turned over and just kind of to catch my breath and they finally came to help me. The girl had said to me, she said, you know, or you’re not holding, you’re not, and this was late October and it was raining and he said, I’m okay.
I’m fine. And why she was asking me that was because as I was kind of pulling myself up my pants and my underwear rolled down to my ankles, but I didn’t
feel, I didn’t even know that.
And then I said, Oh, and then right then, and there is an, Oh shit, this is bad. The fact that I, one thing that I couldn’t move my legs, another thing that I could not [00:45:00] feel, and it said whatever is going to come out of this.
There’s going to be like longterm ramifications. You know, at that point I knew that. And then I remember going into the ambulance and I remember talking to the the the worker there, the rescue worker, and, you know, he was a young kid, nice guy. And I just kept asking him, do you think that we will walk again?
And he said, listen, I don’t know, just hang in there, just hang in there. And you know that, of course. Let the games begin that you get into that emergency room minutes. Like you go into one room, go into another room and you go into another room. And then the one story that really sticks out and talk about terrible hospitality, because I always say it’s important to practice hospitality every single day.
I had a very, almost like a very overly eager doctor coming to the room. At this point, after I got the cat scans, MRIs, all that stuff finally was able to catch my breath. And to the right of me was my mother. And here comes a stock, dirty comes in and he says, you know, almost with this enthusiasm that was still up to now still very bizarre.
He said, no, you’re a really strong guy. You’ve got your upper [00:46:00] body. But unfortunately, and I’m paraphrasing, unfortunately you’re never going to run a marathon again. And I’m just, you know, of course at this point I couldn’t really talk as I, you know, one of my lungs collapsed and, you know, they put me in with big, they stuck a Trek under, you know, and I’m just shaking my head.
I knew where he was going with this. I said, please, don’t say, please, don’t say, and then my mom burst out crying. And then she went into the hallway and it was just a chain of that. And he just was like taken back and I was like, you fucking idiot. What an asshole
Eli Kulp: [00:46:31] let’s make fun of. Let’s make a joke about this real quick.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:46:35] And I was just such a bizarre situation in that. That’s what I remember within like 12 hours. I mean, I remember everything pretty much.
Eli Kulp: [00:46:47] So what year was
Yannick Benjamin: [00:46:48] that? That was 2000. Was October, 2003. Yeah, it was
Eli Kulp: [00:46:53] about 17 years.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:46:54] Yeah, it was, I was 25 years old when it happened. I mean, you know, Well, you know, [00:47:00] when things are just happening at that’s how I led, you know, it was just like, it was hitting my stride in my career. And all of a sudden I’m like, Oh my God, everything that I ever worked for, and I have ever dreamed of like, am I ever going to be able to do this again?
It’s just it was just unimaginable that I was in this situation. It was almost, you know, those stories that you hear about the star football player and the quarterback or whatever. And then all of a sudden now he blew out his knee and now. He doesn’t know what to do. I was kind of in that situation, to be honest with you.
Eli Kulp: [00:47:28] No, I, you know, yeah. Same thing for me. I think, you know, anybody who has gone through a spinal cord injury, and that goes for the people that, you know, had a pinch spine and they eventually got recovered. You know, that idea that you no longer have control over a big part of your body. You know your injury?
What, what level are you spine?
Yannick Benjamin: [00:47:55] Just slightly just above my belly button. You know, [00:48:00] my sensation in my motor.
Eli Kulp: [00:48:04] So I’m a little higher up in the cervical area. So it affects my arms, my hands, the. You know, but same thing, like, you know, knowing, you know, pretty quickly, like you realize pretty quickly that life is not going to be the same.
And the thing about spinal cord injury, it doesn’t really hurt. You know what I mean? Not like, it sounds like you’re laying there and your, your legs are ripped open and you’re feeling pain or you’re smashed into, I mean, some people I’m sure I went through way more traumatic injuries than you or I, at the time you’re in shock of course, but I mean, for me, like.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:48:42] absolutely right. Well said,
Eli Kulp: [00:48:43] well, you know, I lost, you know, percent of my ability to move my body and the only other. Injury that I had was a little scrape on my knee.
And it’s just like, it’s such a [00:49:00] giant, giant injury, probably the most catastrophic injury you can have as a human being or one of them, you know, and yeah, it can be like, there’s no, There’s no, there’s no scratch.
You know, there’s nothing, Oh, you fell around, Oh, you did this, but your, your spinal cord is, is just, it’s kind of, I always, I always feel like it’s the one thing that, that was didn’t evolve the right way. And it’s, you know, that thing in the center a little bit more so that, you know, it wasn’t so easily broken because it is such a very tender and fragile part of our bodies.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:49:37] Eli. And you said something that is so true. I mean, I never thought about it that way, but my, my, my situation exactly like yours. I mean, if you came into the hospital, I didn’t have one scrape. I didn’t have, you know, I wasn’t in pain. I mean, I was in discomfort obviously for, you know, but it wasn’t how to stop it.
I mean, the injury itself is kind of stroppy, but what happened was not catastrophic, but yet it’s [00:50:00] so incredibly life altering. Physically, and then also mentally, and I can’t even imagine your situation that you have to go through. And I guess I never really asked you or talk to you about this, or maybe that that’s another conversation, but what, what that transition was like to be on the line that intensity the adrenaline working as a cook and not things kind of have to change and how you dealt with all of that.
Eli Kulp: [00:50:27] I mean, I’m still dealing with it, you know, to be honest, I think it’s, you know, I think it quadriplegia, you know, obviously it’s a very different beast. You know, not being able to use your, your hands and, you know, the way that they’re meant to be so that, you know, you are without a doubt, a little bit more dependent on other people or, or adapting in a different way.
My brain for 23 years, but I was [00:51:00] 37. You know, I’d been in restaurants that, that long by then. And. You know, and you’re wired, you just literally in your it’s in your DNA at that point, it’s part of your, your human nature, you know, and you’re built, you know, it’s talking about being in that pressure cooker of New York city for so long, like your, your, your wiring is set up that way.
Like you’re, you can handle that stress. You can handle that pressure. I mean, chefs are typically good. You know, you have to be, you had to be strong and you have to be able to. Get through very stressful situations and be the coolest head in the kitchen. So to speak. I mean, I worked for chefs that would just like freak out in service and crash service, but that was on me.
Like I really, I really tried my best to make sure I maintained, you know, clearheaded and, and optimized. Focus during the heat of service, so that nine o’clock push where your [00:52:00] tickets are coming in and food’s going out at hyper hyper speed, you know, maintain that. And that’s what that’s when I felt I was at my best.
Right. So. Not having that, not being able to be at the, at the past, pleading food and jumped on the line and bailing somebody out. You know, that’s a huge, I mean, I started watching daytime TV, you know what I mean? Like after watching judge Judy, I’m like, what the hell is going on? Like, this is not me. This isn’t, I’ve never watched daytime TV in my life.
I’ve never been so annoyed by TV because like I’ve. I didn’t even want to watch movies because that’s not who I am. Like, you’re struggling. Like this is my identity. I was proud that I didn’t watch TV that much. Cause I was always like focusing on other things, other things to do, then all of a sudden I’m sitting there in front of TV.
I’m like, this is not me. Like it was, it was such a struggle, such a struggle. And you know, being able to go through that, you know, and. [00:53:00] And now where I am today, you know, which is a much different place where I have things going on. I’m I figured out what I can do, and I’m more okay with what I can’t do.
And of course, you know, so the, you know, of course there’s frustrations like you and I still share a lot of frustrations. I mean, we still can’t get over a curb. You know, if it’s there, we hit, you know, we have to like, you know, we need, we need certain things in our life and depend on them to, to get by. You know, you’re not going to live in a.
Yeah, a three story building, you know,
Yannick Benjamin: [00:53:34] how different would your life have been right now had you, instead of, you know, you have your you’re quadriplegic, but if you were a paraplegic, like what my level of injury, I mean, I, and I don’t mean to put these, I mean, just,
Eli Kulp: [00:53:49] I mean, I wonder that sometimes I think it would be a lot different.
I mean, it would be you know, being more independent and being able to. You know, I, I, [00:54:00] it’s funny. I was thinking about that before we got on. Cause I was going through my notes, you know, I kind of imagined myself in the restaurant, in the kitchen where I would be like, you know, being able to actually in my brain, I was thinking about this, you know, a pass that was set up to where I can wheel up to it still was still plate food and tastes food and work service, and imagine myself in that.
And you know, I think, I think I would, I would make an effort to do that. Now when I go into the kitchen, No
Yannick Benjamin: [00:54:28] kitchens, aren’t set up for people in wheelchairs.
Eli Kulp: [00:54:31] You know, space is always a premium in the restaurants.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:54:33] Absolutely.
Eli Kulp: [00:54:34] It’s never, especially in New York city, right? Like, I’m sure, you know, I want to talk about this a little bit more with you, but you know, they’re not set up for us.
So now it’s like, I can’t even grab a spoon and taste the food. Like it’s funny. I go in the kitchen. People are just handing me flavors. So it’s different, different world for sure. When [00:55:00] you started say, okay, I want to get back in this business. I figured out how I can do it. I get this lap tray. Like, what was that?
That entry back in light because yeah. I mean, first of all, we’re just talking about space spaces, a premium in restaurants. I mean, there’s times I can’t even get through by restaurants. I have to ask people to move, right? Like ship a move. Like obviously you can’t work in a, you know, working in the East village restaurant for you would be very difficult.
You know, so obviously you would have to kind of, I feel like you have to pick and choose a little bit based on the out layout of a restaurant. So what was the first restaurant you got back into and what was that process like?
Yannick Benjamin: [00:55:41] Well, immediately after my injury I went back to work, but I was working more in the office at the Ritz-Carlton hotel.
They were very good to me. Very kind. They, I mean, that was really great just to kind of get my energy back and my confidence and get back into the routine of things. So it was out of work from pretty much from October. I went back to work pretty fast. [00:56:00] Actually I went back to work part-time in February, which was really a good confidence booster, but unfortunately at that time, the restaurant was really struggling.
And then I was having all sorts of health issues. Unfortunately, you know I developed a really bad pressure, sore that just, you know, just got to the point where I needed to get a flap surgery and, and that caused a lot of infections and all that.
Eli Kulp: [00:56:20] How long were you, how long did you have to be in bed after
Yannick Benjamin: [00:56:23] that?
Pretty much I did not get the pressure. Sore did not. The one who really got bad was not until the summer of 2004. And I try to heal it on my own for about a year. And then finally, August of 2005 is when I got the surgery. And, you know, after that, I was, I was not in a good frame of mind because I think I came to the realization on how real this injury is.
And if you don’t take care of yourself, what slightest mistake. I mean, it could get really bad between urinary tract infection between especially skincare. I mean, all this stuff that, you [00:57:00] know, I thought that I think I just in my head thought, okay, I’m paralyzed and I don’t have the use of my legs and I don’t have sensation and I never took all the other things seriously enough.
And then I realized like, yes, I’m still strong and I’m still this, but. There’s still a delicate side of myself that I need to accept,
Eli Kulp: [00:57:17] you know,
Yannick Benjamin: [00:57:19] and I think that, you know, between getting a flap surgery, I did fall to kind of you know, I guess looking back I was in a depression and I guess I, I developed anxiety that I never had developed before.
And I was very fortunate to have a gentlemen that grew up in the same village as my father did. Who’s opening up a wine store in the West village and who had reached out to me. And I said, wow, when I got there, I thought it was gonna be a small rinky big wine store. And instead it was incredibly spaced off.
It was as if I had designed the restaurant, I mean the retail store, restaurant, retail store wine store, and the bathroom was accessible. Everything was accessible desks. I [00:58:00] can just roll in. And so I spent a good amount of time there. I went back to school. Well, I actually started working in restaurants just as a stodgier kind of just to kind of get myself back in the rhythm of things.
And I had, I had applied to millions of restaurants and by then Google had come out. People were Googling my name. Like we, you know, they, they got ahead of the curve, you know, and people, and I started like, you know, getting the reputation, but no one was going to take a risk on hiring a guy in a wheelchair that they didn’t know much about.
It wasn’t so much that they were against it. It was just like, they didn’t want to take that chance. And I was very fortunate that I had done some soul, any competitions. I put myself out there and one of the judges was a general manager of the university club. He had seen me perform doing, you know, during the competition, during service.
And that’s how I got my first break. And I was very fortunate because. The restaurant that I work at in the university club. It’s one of those old school restaurants, all the tables are spread apart. So getting [00:59:00] in and out is very easy, the floors marble. So I taught like I’m on carpet, I’ve got a really pushing. So all of those components came together. So it was very, very lucky, but it took it wasn’t until 2013 that I started actually working as an employee of a restaurant.
Eli Kulp: [00:59:17] So there was almost a,
Yannick Benjamin: [00:59:19] was that. 10 years, 10 years.
Eli Kulp: [00:59:21] Wow.
Yannick Benjamin: [00:59:22] Pretty much from the time of injury, if you want.
Eli Kulp: [00:59:27] That’s that’s. That was quite some time.
So you were without a doubt discriminated against, and people have these biases in their head that this couldn’t be done. I mean, were you, were you like. In a sense, like disappointment, like you couldn’t get back into what you wanted to do or did you just kind of, did you have, what was your attitude in that process?
Yannick Benjamin: [00:59:50] I mean, I just, when I was disappointed by the most was there were people that I knew, or I had people I’d say, Hey, can you pass my resume [01:00:00] over to person? I know you might know them. And I, and I knew that people were people that I even knew myself, that I even went out. And I said, just give me a chance. Let me talk to you.
Let me explain to you. I can bring value for certain things that I can’t bring to the table. Maybe. You know, I can bring some kind of press that you wouldn’t have. Not because I’m in a wheelchair, but just bring acknowledgements your establishment. Or also what’s the bottom line of the restaurant it’s bringing profitability.
Right? Maybe I can sell more wine than personally. Maybe I can’t roll around with a big Magnum and serve a party of 12, but that’s okay. That’s all we have waiters. And that’s why a busboys and waiters assistance or whatever. And third things that they can’t do that I can bring to the table, you know? And I was just disappointed that they never gave me a chance to let me explain myself and the skillset that I, and my passion to the table.
Because if that, if they did, then I think I would have, I would not have been in a situation that I was in. And I think that [01:01:00] we have to acknowledge and the business that we work in, in the hospitality industry, there’s a lot of unconscious bias. And we all, we don’t realize it, but the restaurant, we hire people based on image.
A lot of times, right. Age-ism is a big thing that exists. You know, you don’t see older experienced people working in front of the house because, Oh, they’re too old. They don’t have that particular look that we want. I mean, even unconscious racism, right. That, that exists a lot of these top end restaurants.
We don’t see people that BiPAP community working, you know, And so that’s something that needs to be addressed. And certainly I think if anything, I think what you had mentioned before when COVID has brought up is these negative kind of variables that we have in the industry that needs to be addressed and it’s showing
Eli Kulp: [01:01:48] no.
And you know, I’ve, I’ve talked about
Yannick Benjamin: [01:01:51] this
Eli Kulp: [01:01:52] Almost exhaustively you know about how now is the time to look at the restaurants, [01:02:00] right? Like so many chefs right now in restaurant tours. Yes, we are. Without a doubt struggling. And you know, and everybody’s hustling to kind of chase that tastes that dollar, their dollar there, and this was necessary, but.
Don’t sit on the fact that we can also be very aspirational right now. And start to think what kind of, what areas are we failing in? What kind of areas that we want to get better in, and also bringing everybody together, right? Like opportunities to talk maybe not in person, but have an opportunity to talk about all these, these things that are happening and that we want to accomplish.
And coming out of COVID, you know, having that renewed sense of togetherness and being able to, you know, if groups of restaurants are able to. You know really find ways to band together and make change. I mean, that’s, to me that’s opportunity.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:02:59] Absolutely. [01:03:00] Well
Eli Kulp: [01:03:00] said. So paint the picture. Cause I, I honestly, I, I, I can’t really even see in my head, I mean, of course, a little bit, but what are you.
When you started serving wine at the university club, what were the reactions like? Like what were the reactions of people, the clientele, like what, what did you see? Like, was it scary? Was it, I mean, it must’ve, it must’ve been a ton of emotions going through.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:03:29] I remember the first day, well, I remember getting hired.
They said we’re going to hire. And I said, I thought it was kind of a little surreal. I said, Oh wow, this is crazy. But I remember the day that I was on my way there, how incredibly scared, how incredibly nervous I was. I actually stopped by a bar cause I needed to get two or three beers in me just to kind of like relieve myself in these nerves.
But I think the first thing that I was really nervous about was the staff. How were, they were going to react to me and it was awesome. [01:04:00] Also keep in mind, the university club is it’s an old place, right? It’s been around for over 150 years and other staff. I mean, I’m working with people that have been there for over 30 years, which is like incredibly like ancient in our business.
So I thought like what they were going to judge me as being gimmicky or what the hell is going on. Well, I was immediately accepted by the staff that were so good to me. I have to say they were so kind, you know, like anything that you need, let us know. But they, they really laid down the law. They were like, listen, your job is to sell wine and make the customers feel comfortable and just talk to them about the world of food and wine.
I said, Oh great. This is lovely. You know, this is amazing. And then with the membership. You know, you had a couple people I’d roll up in there, you know, to their table, you know, and you get like the really nice, you know, you know, soft-spoken older gentleman or woman and say, wow, this is very unique. I’ve never had this done before, you know, and then you have other people would come up to me like, Hey, can we help you with, you know, members coming up to me?
Like, are you [01:05:00] lost? Can we help you with something? I’m like, Oh no, I actually work here. But it was all with like, it was all well-intentioned. But overall, I don’t think I can tell you that I’ve ever had a negative. No, I never had someone say like, Oh, that’s fine, but we rather talk to someone else. You know, I’ve never had that.
And I have to say that I’ve been incredibly well-received. I’m really thankful for that aspect, that pleasant experiences. But before going in there, I was, I was just like, I felt the pressure of the world. Oh my God. Be careful what you wish for. Right. And now it’s actually happening. And that’s what kind of know that’s what, the situation that I was
Eli Kulp: [01:05:38] in.
So you’ve talked about this tray that you have the tray and it made you think, okay, I can do this. So paint that picture for me.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:05:49] You know, listen to tray. It’s nothing, you know, it’s not. It’s nothing even close to like what Thomas Edison did, you know? But I, I, I created a train that I can [01:06:00] actually like put the bottles.
I can put the glass where without having to stress out that they’re going to fall over because that’s inevitable. Right. So I, you know, I created these little slots, but I worked with it with this wonderful French carpenter out in Brooklyn who, who loves wine. And he was buying wine for me at the time when I was working at the wine store and I was trying to do it on my own.
I’m not a carpenter and I’ve got two left hands, you know, and I finally went up to him. I said, listen, I really need help with this tray and he’s like, I would love to be part of this project. And we just kind of worked on it and he never charged me a dime. It was just purely out of friendship. And he wanted to also make sure that it was aesthetically pleasing, that it was good look nice.
And something that was durable. And he did it for me. It was just like, I mean, they changed my life, you know, without this tray, I don’t know where I would be. I mean, just amazing what a small little thing could do, you know, a hundred percent. And so, like I said, it just I was very grateful to meet this gentleman.
But being able to function and, you know, I just don’t want to like talk [01:07:00] to people about what I want to be able to serve. I still like the physical aspect of it and being able to do some of those things is really, you know, it just it’s important. It really stimulates me. It keeps me going.
Eli Kulp: [01:07:12] So do you pour the wine? On the tray and then
Yannick Benjamin: [01:07:16] handed it over to them.
No. Great question. So, so I’ll give you just a quick, you know, I’ll go up to the table. Good evening. Hey, how are you?
It’s good to see you. What are you having? Pick out some wines or if they want to do a tasting flight, I’ll do that too, but usually it’s bottles.
Okay. We’re going to get that bottle for you. I go and pick up the wine in the in my the cellar. Put it on my tray, its standing up, put in my wine glasses, let’s say it’s a party of four. Go up to the table. I first put in the, I put down the glasses, present the bottle of wine shuttle, a tour 1982. Okay, great.
I don’t know why I chose that. And then I. You know, my suggestion is that we can be [01:08:00] candid for you. And I decant that wine right then and there. So I’m not also acting as if my own personal Gary at all. I am de Garrett. All right. People don’t know that’s a little side table that you do all your, you know, whether it’s carving up the roast chicken or duck, or they can’t do one, but instead I’m doing it all right then and there.
You have to the host to taste. And then I go around and I fill up everyone else’s glass and that’s what I do. And that’s pretty much how it is. When the glasses are empty. I cleared them out and all that kind of stuff. And I even clear up 30, you know, the plates are there. They’re finished with their plates.
I do that as well. I try to do as much as I can. And let me make this very clear. There’s solely it’s not just about serving wine, but you’re there to make sure that an order needs to be taken for food. You take, it needs to clear tables. Do you do it? If you need to run food, you run food as well.
Eli Kulp: [01:08:53] No. The position itself is definitely a leadership position on the
Yannick Benjamin: [01:08:56] floor.
Eli Kulp: [01:08:58] Your manager, your, [01:09:00] you know, you’re, you’re up there. I mean, I would say you’re up there almost close to the GM at some point. So
Yannick Benjamin: [01:09:08] keep in mind where you’re a glorified a waiter in many ways too. So the fact that if you forget that fact that you’re a waiter too, then you have no business being in this industry.
Hmm. You know, if it’s too good for you to clear the table, it’s too good for you to like take a food order, then find something else to do.
Eli Kulp: [01:09:26] Thank you for painting that picture because I’ve often wondered. I would love to see you in action someday.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:09:31] Well, hopefully I will be able to do that for you. And then that will happen for sure.
We’ll have a break. And I don’t think we ever had dinner together and I look forward to doing that too as
Eli Kulp: [01:09:42] well. So. One of the amazing things that came out of this is that you met your good friend, Alex, Ella Gooden coming together. And then how did you start hatching the [01:10:00] plan for the project that’s now called wheeling?
Yeah. Explain a little bit about what wheeling forward is to the, to the listeners. So.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:10:13] First off wheeling forward is a non-profit. It’s a five Oh one C3. And the objective really is to really focus on individuals. That are recently spinal cord are people that have been living with spinal cord injury and not, not just limited to spinal cord, but Ms.
Parkinson’s, you know, anything that’s related to physical disability and helping them guide them with the correct resources so they can be successful during their disability or with their disability, and also providing them with equipment if they need it. You know, and I think kind of a form of mentorship too, as well is also key.
And then also we also have a fitness center called the access project. So it’s a place where people can actually go to all the equipment is adoptive classes that we have that we [01:11:00] provide adaptive martial arts, adaptive boxing. We have a spin class too, with a hand cranks. Yeah, that are really phenomenal, but also a place where people can meet other people with disabilities and they can talk to each other.
Right. Oh, that’s how you go on the train. I didn’t know that. Or that’s how you you know, you put on your pants on small little things that go a long way and small things as you know, already that we took for granted when we were able-bodied right. And going back to the story with Alex Laguna and, you know, I met him because we were both, we were in the same room.
We were roommates and we were only separated by one, one curtain.
Eli Kulp: [01:11:33] Oh, you were injured at the same time? Pretty
Yannick Benjamin: [01:11:35] much. Yeah. He was injured at all. Outgoing to school at Carnegie Mellon in Pennsylvania. And I was injured in New York city, but, you know, he got transferred into Mount Sinai because this is where he lived at.
And so I was 25 at the time of injury and he was just like a few months over 18. So it was just, he was quite young as you can imagine and all that stuff that you’re going through. And we just, obviously it’s a tremendous [01:12:00] bond, you know, you’re, you’re, it’s almost like you, they’re growing up with someone as kids.
Right. But we’re growing up together. Post-injury right.
Eli Kulp: [01:12:07] Well, I mean, listen, it’s a great analogy because you are relearning everything. I mean, you are essentially a child, again, you’re dependent on people. You’re learning essentially how to brush your teeth, put your clothes on, you know, all these things, you know, basically learning how to go to the bathroom again, you know, so many things that you’re relearning and it is a rebirth of sorts.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:12:36] It is a rebirth. And going back to what you had just said, I mean, there were things that I had no clue about. I, I really kind of just thought that I was paralyzed, but I remember why I was in rehabilitation. You know, they come in there with the catheter, a kid, right. And they’re like time to time to go to the bathroom.
And I finally, I had asked them, nurses said, Hey, like how much longer am I going to have to do this for? You know? And she said, wait, [01:13:00] Did anyone actually explain to you like your situation with your bladder? And she kind of looked at me really stunned and she’s like, hold on for a second. I’m coming back.
And she was the one to explain to me like that this was going to be probably not definitively because no one can ever see definitively. Right. But that this was going to be, this is how it was going to be for the rest of my life. And then I just remember just feeling like, Oh my God, the bladder are you serious?
You know? And listen, not for nothing. But we take good pleasure. It’s a pleasurable thing. Sometimes you go to the bathrooms, it’s like a release, right? And you’re like, ah, and I said, Oh my God. Not to have that. And not even that, but also the logistics. How many times did we go to a bathroom in a restaurant you go to a restaurant when they tell you that it’s accessible and it’s not accessible, for that, just to add to that quality of life, let alone not walking again, but now I’m not going to have control of my bladder.
And you know, of course like the first few years were just a menace. I would have accidents and talking about being humbled.
[01:14:00] Eli Kulp: [01:14:03] There are a lot of ways your, your dignity is compromised .
Yannick Benjamin: [01:14:07] Dignity is compromised. Well said. Anyway, going back to the thing with Alan. So we obviously bonded and, you know, he went back to school, you’ve finished school. I was just re figuring things out in my life. And there was a lot on my plate already. You know, at that time I was quite young.
I had gotten married, I was married and then I had my car accident three months later. Just a lot of pressure and I think you could probably relate to all of that in many ways. And then finally What ended up happening, you know, we, we got back together and he said, now I want to start a nonprofit.
And I said, well, it’s funny enough that you want to do that because I want to do something with my resources, for my love of wine and food. And maybe I can create these events, generate money and it can go into the right hands. And I liked what he was his idea. Right. I was more about like, let’s not try to be so hung up on it.
Sure. What about all these individuals that we can actually help in the present moment and set them [01:15:00] the right way or help them get to their goals, to their objectives. And that’s how willing Ford really came about. It was very organic, to be honest with you.
Eli Kulp: [01:15:07] Yeah. And the, the way I met you guys, I met Alex very early on and that was that NYU probably within a month after I was injured, you know, he came in and kind of explained a little about what. First, he came in like empathetically, like, Hey, you know, kind of welcome to the club. And, you know, kind of showed me, they showed me the ropes a little bit and gave me some, I mean, I was still like, I remember being so exhausted and barely being able to keep my eyes open.
Cause I was just, you know, I was not in a, my body’s still had not even come close to kind of rebalancing itself and, but, you know No cause talking about what you guys do. And, and when I eventually I transferred down to Atlanta for another God, six weeks, and [01:16:00] then eventually I came home and, you know, wheeling forward was one of the first things I got into, as soon as I came back home and, you know, seeing the level of the way that people embraced.
You guys up in Harlem? Well, yeah, one 12th. Am I remembering that right? One 12th and park.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:16:22] Madison, I’m sorry. Fifth Avenue
Eli Kulp: [01:16:27] New York. Right. You know, and this community center that was, that had. You know, given you guys access to to put in this gym, I remember the free therapy on the weekends and having these students come in and volunteers, not just students, but all, you know, really extremely talented physical therapists, occupational therapists, and you know, all of this was just, you know, It was, it was tremendous to see.
And you know, the work that you guys have done. I mean, we can talk all day just about this, but to kind of wrap up on this [01:17:00] conversation. I mean, it’s, you must be very proud and, and you know, the work that you guys have done. How many do you guys, do you have any statistics? Like how many wheelchairs you’ve given away?
How many people went through the program of top of your head?
Yannick Benjamin: [01:17:11] I would say probably that’s our biggest downfall as a, as an Oregon, a small mom and pop organization. Cause that’s what we really are, you know, very grassroots, you know, the truth is, and we should keep a spreadsheet. We’ve done quite a bit of work.
And I know that’s kind of being very general, but you know, even this year, I mean, I, I, myself, I was hoping to people and I got them two wheelchairs and there are other things.
Eli Kulp: [01:17:38] The high hundreds are for sure. I don’t sell yourself short here.
And you had your annual Wine on Wheels event and probably raised a
Yannick Benjamin: [01:17:56] hundred grand?
Oh, yeah, for sure. A couple of hundred grand. Yep. For sure. I would say, you know, I [01:18:00] mean unfortunately, you know, this year, probably next year, we won’t be able to have it. I mean that does hurt a lot. I’ll be very honest with you and we’re trying to be creative with like zoom webinars and maybe we can start doing some outdoor events next year.
I don’t know. But yeah, it’s, it’s tricky. It’s a tricky situation, but I will say this to you. And I say this to everybody. I am so thankful for winning forward because I’ve also benefited from it. I mean, it was there for me in its own kind of way, where it gave me a sense of purpose that I needed, and I was able to use my resources and then help other people who have significantly less than, than, than what I ever had.
You know, we don’t have families, we didn’t have the financial resources because the truth is. Those of us that are able to get out of this hole of injury, usually have financial flexibility and have the financial resources to do even small home modifications to get back into your home or whatever, whether it’s building on ramp or grab bars and all that kind of stuff and it’s a really [01:19:00] tricky situation.
So when I hear people judge other people that are disabled, well, they’re not doing enough. I’m like, you know what, man? If you were able bodied and you were deepe into, deeply poor and impoverished, then you’re even further back when you get that injury, you know, whether it’s an act of violence or a car accident or some kind of, you know, something spontaneously that just happened to you. It is not easy. It is quite difficult. And I think we lack that empathy a lot of times.
Eli Kulp: [01:19:27] Well, yeah. W w major part of what you do is. It’s fine. These individuals, you know, when they’re in the hospital, even like going to them and saying, listen, we’re here for you. And like you’ve mentioned, you know, these people that come from impoverished backgrounds, you know, inner city, if they live, if their family lived in the second floor of a walk-up building, then you don’t get outside outside.
They can’t, they literally can’t leave their homes. So terrible. [01:20:00] You guys do. And, and helping people. You know, achieve some of these goals is, is very commendable. So thank you. Thank you for, thank you for that. And you know, I look very fondly at my time in New York, you know, working with you guys. And it reminds me that I need to start working out
Yannick Benjamin: [01:20:17] more.
Eli Kulp: [01:20:20] Just a reminder. Well the new chapter right now with you, I mean, you know, getting. You know, it’s kind of coming full circle where, you know, your family had restaurants and you worked in restaurants and now you have the opportunity yourself to you know, open the restaurant and it’s Contento.
Right. And what, tell us about the restaurant. Like, what is, what’s the idea with it?
Yannick Benjamin: [01:20:45] Yeah. So actually the other partner, his name is George Gray Eagle, who you might have met a couple of times. He was, he’s also involved. And I, he, the restaurant is on the block that he lives on and he saw [01:21:00] this empty space.
He was like, listen, and it was very spotty. He’s like, do you want, do you want in on this? I think we should do something. And I, we talked about it and I said, yeah, let’s do it. Let’s make it happen. So it’s one of those rare restaurants where it’s actually owned or operated by people that have a disability.
Right. That’s number one. And it’s on a great block and it’s right down the block from where the access project does. And it just made all, and it was raw space. So it was an opportunity to, to, to make it our own and make it accessible and be a template for other restaurants, for other businesses as well.
But the, the, the, the theme or the atmosphere doesn’t change. I mean, it’s very similar to a place like you have, you know, High Street on Hudson. You know, it’s just a neighborhood place, good food. We’re not reinventing the wheel, good wine list, you know? And I think that that’s what we’re trying to bring to East Harlem and also share our passion for inclusivity, where people with disabilities, because I think we don’t in restaurants.
We. It’s a demographic and a population that we [01:22:00] completely disregard, maybe not purposely, but we do. And I talk to people with disabilities all the time, whether it’s cognitive or physical or whether you’re blind or deaf, why they don’t go out to restaurants because they feel like they’re not welcomed.
Right. And feeling not welcome to something as simple as like not having a QR code so someone that’s blind can just scan it and then can have the menu read to them. Maybe having some of the staff, just trained in simple sign language, having tables that are high enough so people can just roll up underneath them.
You know, things that are, that are not really, that are not going to cost you more. But they’re just simple investments, especially when you’re building up from the ground up, it’s inexcusable, you know, and we’re hoping that contento will be a place for other people with disabilities if they want to learn about restaurants and are just curious and like, Hey, can I come over there and just hang out with you guys for like a few hours and see how this bill operates as a stodgier or maybe to the point where they become good enough and they get hired, you know, it’s a smaller [01:23:00] space.
It’s tighter for sure. Well, we’ve designed it. We’re pretty much I can get around to every spot. Obviously nothing is perfect or from certainly from a customer point of view. And I think it’s pretty perfect.
Eli Kulp: [01:23:11] That’s great. Well, I look forward to seeing it, reading about it and eventually
Yannick Benjamin: [01:23:17] eating. Yeah. I can’t wait to have you and the name Contento it’s it comes from it’s both, it means happy in both Spanish and Italian and East Harlem was, you know, Italian immigrants, it was predominantly Italian. You still have some really great Italian restaurants and rails that are still there and Patsy’s pizza. But now then it became, you know, predominantly it was known as Del Barrio. So it’s our way of paying homage to these two incredible waves of immigrants influenced East Harlem to what it is today and also who we are positive potential. And it’s easy to say. So there’s a lot of factors to
Eli Kulp: [01:23:54] it. I love it. I love it. It wraps it up nicely. Who’s who’s going to be a chef. You have [01:24:00] somebody,
Yannick Benjamin: [01:24:01] We have a wonderful chef. His name is Oscar Lorenzi and he’s Peruvian. He was the former executive chef of Knysna time. And prior to that, he was over at the Waverley end.
And he’s just a great guy. I mean like, listen, I had only one question for him and the question was simple. Like, Hey. Would you mind coming up to talking to customers? Would you serve some of the food? He’s like, absolutely. I love to do that. I love wine. I love beverage and I love people. And he said, I have no intention of just being a Hermit and cooking food.
And I said, great, you’re in. And he’s a very flexible, like even I know that we’ve talked a lot about in the news about chefs not having the ability to pivot or adapt, but like, you know, like he knows the menu that he created before COVID. It’s going to be very different after COVID, you know, you know, being able to deliver food and food, that’s able to be deliverable and he he’s great at that.
So he’s a wonderful human being. He’s a wonderful shop. I’m super
Eli Kulp: [01:24:56] excited. Awesome. Well, congratulations on that.
[01:25:00] Yannick Benjamin: [01:25:00] Thank you as well.
Eli Kulp: [01:25:04] Thanks.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:25:05] You’ve done a lot. You’ve done a lot.
Eli Kulp: [01:25:07] Try to keep just trying to keep it going, you know. You’ll proverbial foot in front of the other. Right,
Yannick Benjamin: [01:25:13] right. That’s
Eli Kulp: [01:25:14] right.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:25:15] Keep the wheels moving.
Eli Kulp: [01:25:18] This is awesome. I learned so much about you that I did not know. I loved the stories. I love your rich, the rich history of you and your family and the French immigrants. That’s amazing. So every podcast, we wrap up with our, our famous 11 question session where I’m going to just throw you random questions that could have to do with you.
They might not do with you. But yeah, I think the it should be pretty quick fun lighthearted. You’re a good looking well dressed individual and people might not be able to see you, but to do a little search to you, you’re sexy guy. [01:26:00] How many suits do you own?
Yannick Benjamin: [01:26:02] Oh shit. Right now I have, well, right now in my closet for short, I think I have close to 12 to 12 suits.
Eli Kulp: [01:26:10] Yeah. I like your blue suit. You look good in a blue suit.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:26:13] Blue is my favorite color. Yeah. Thank you.
Eli Kulp: [01:26:16] All right. Top three favorite wine. I know it’s gonna be a hard question. What are the top three that might come up?
Yannick Benjamin: [01:26:23] Right. Okay. So I will give you regions, right. But I a Chardonnay from Chablis and burgundy. Definitely Northern Roan without a doubt. And Barolo
Eli Kulp: [01:26:33] three words that would describe you when you were younger, prior to your accident?
Yannick Benjamin: [01:26:39] Three words, definitely stubborn persistent and consistent.
Eli Kulp: [01:26:47] Okay, cool three words that would describe you now?
Yannick Benjamin: [01:26:50] Ooh, three words that would describe me now for sure. That’s that’s a good question. I don’t know that I don’t know hardworking would be a a while, like a word, but I, the description [01:27:00] would be hardworking.
I definitely would definitely say I remain consistent for sure. And I would say overall, I think I’m very positive. Positive would be another word. And I think I’m even more positive now than I was in many ways. I guess I have a different perspective on things.
Eli Kulp: [01:27:16] Great, man. What was your most embarrassing moment at a restaurant work in a restaurant?
Yannick Benjamin: [01:27:23] Oh God. I had when I was working at Luster. It was this it was a party of eight and I was working in the lounge and I was serving the food and I had actually, you might be familiar, but this was a Daniel Ballou’s famous dish. It’s a black sea bass on wrapped in a crispy potato skin. Yeah,
Eli Kulp: [01:27:42] yeah, yeah.
Red wine killer.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:27:47] And I was, and I had my, my. One dish up here like that, like two dishes actually. And I was serving the other one like that, but in the meantime, the sauce was dripping over the kid, his graduation suit [01:28:00] from high school, went all over suit. Oh My God. It was awful. Oh,
Eli Kulp: [01:28:05] Oh my God. I mean, I worked in the front of the house, you know, You’re you’re always a millisecond away from disaster.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:28:16] Oh my God. That was, and I got, I got it good from the general manager
Eli Kulp: [01:28:20] who was top. All right. Just kind of maybe as the same vein worst customer experience, like one that sticks out to you, like really just a tough customer. You have any of those.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:28:34] Yeah, I, I, so this story changed my life. I wouldn’t say that it was the worst, but he was tough and he had good reason to be tough.
And it was a lesson on how to never say the word no to anyone. He was sitting at the bar and he had asked for English Coleman’s mustard. And at that time, I had no clue what that was. I just knew about dijons and some other mustard than my, and all these other. And I go, and I didn’t want to [01:29:00] ask anyone because I didn’t want to look like I did know what English Coleman’s mustard.
So I wonder around the kitchen, I went into the pantry. I’m looking around, still not asking. I was too prideful to ask anyone. I go back up to the to the customer. And I said to him, I said, listen, sir, I’m sorry, but we don’t have it. And he just, you know, gently grabbed me or put his hand on my shoulder and he said, you do whatever you can to figure it out. And right now what you showed me is that you didn’t try hard enough. And you basically said, no, never say that to a guest. And he was right.
Eli Kulp: [01:29:32] I remember, I mean, running down the street, running down the street to like get salmon for somebody that wanted salmon, like miss so-and-so came in and there’s a salmon on the menu. She’s pissed off like. The chef was sending me as Cornelius Gallagher, like down the street to like knock on different restaurant doors, to find salmon for her. There you go.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:29:54] There you do what you need to do. We’re we’re a people industry. We do what we can.
Eli Kulp: [01:29:58] Yeah. 20, 21 goals,
[01:30:00] Yannick Benjamin: [01:30:00] 2021 goals. Definitely getting content to open. Being more patient. I still lack some patience. I’m still working on that and continuing to, to expand and keep willing forward. And Wine on Wheels operated so we can help more people for sure and make it the industry and helping the industry, our industry more inclusive for people, especially with people with disabilities, but also in the Black and Brown community.
A hundred percent.
Eli Kulp: [01:30:31] It’s a lot of work to be done.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:30:33] A lot of work can be done
Eli Kulp: [01:30:34] Proudest professional moment?
Yannick Benjamin: [01:30:36] I think the proudest, this goes back to Cirque again was I was, Serio Maccioni. The owner of a certain would eat at the bar lounge a lot. And this was at the beginning. We were first opened. We were working every day.
There were no days off we’re working on that, honey. Finally, he grabbed me by my elbow. And he said, I’ve been watching you and you’re working really hard, be prepared next week. You’re [01:31:00] going into the dining room. And I just was like, Oh wow, that’s amazing. Yeah,
Eli Kulp: [01:31:04] that’s cool, man.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:31:05] I get emotional even thinking about it right now. You know, I think as time goes on you either you realize the impact in it like that, that really forever changed my life.
Eli Kulp: [01:31:14] Yeah. I know I stressed it earlier, but.
God. That’s great. You had that moment. Very cool. Best Christmas present ever.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:31:30] Oh God. Best Christmas gift ever. That’s a good question. I’m going to say the best Christmas gift ever was probably six months. After I was working at the university club, I remember a Christmas. I said, God, this was like, good.
I started in June and I said, this is a great gift. I’m still working there. And I didn’t think I was going to last and I started feeling comfortable. So I think at that point, that was in December of 2013. So it wasn’t a gift, but it was more of a situation. I remember just feeling so thanks.
Eli Kulp: [01:31:59] That’s [01:32:00] cool, man.
What’s your favorite place in New York? Just to get a chill,
Yannick Benjamin: [01:32:05] really good question. But there’s an Irish pub on 52nd and ninth. It’s a, it’s a neighborhood joint and it’s my own pub that I went. We still go drinking with my three best friends that I grew up since I was six years old. It’s called McCoy’s.
So we go there, but as far as a restaurant, if you were to come down to the city where I would take the first place that comes to mind is Racine’s. I love the comfort food. And I love the wine list. I love that place. Yeah.
Eli Kulp: [01:32:33] All right. Last question. If you had a billboard to get a message out to billions of people around the world, what message would be on that billboard?
Yannick Benjamin: [01:32:43] Yeah, that’s a. I mean, I know this is gonna sound like but you should, whatever resources you have and that, you know, that you’ve been privileged with don’t hold them, share them with, and they don’t have to be something tangible. [01:33:00] They can be emotional, they can be a connection to a job. They shouldn’t be a simple introduction to somebody, but those little resources that you may take for granted, don’t hold them to you, try to share them and try to make this world a better place.
I think that’s what we do. Well, we don’t do enough of, we think that just giving money or, or it has to be, you have to get food. So going out of your way to do an introduction and sharing those resources, like even something as simple as, you know, someone wanting to come who wasn’t disability and not, you know, my door said, Hey, you, do you mind if you show me how to do accounting and how to run a restaurant, No, we can’t do that. It’s a, it’s a, it’s our secret sauce. We can’t share it. Share whatever you can impossible.
Eli Kulp: [01:33:42] Share the knowledge,
Yannick Benjamin: [01:33:43] Sharing the knowledge.
Eli Kulp: [01:33:45] I love it. Well, Yannick this was great. Getting, getting to know you more and get to know you at a deeper level. And I think you’re, you know, I think we all. Here, the, the, you know, that were inspirational [01:34:00] just cause we do what we do from a wheelchair.
But you know what? You and Alex have done it willing forward and really have changed lives. Like really. Drastically changed people’s lives is cool. I mean, your energy was wide on wheels and how, how big and successful you’ve made that too, that, that basically keeps wa wheeling forward and access project moving forward.
I mean, your, your work is you’re, you’re going to leave a great legacy, so really appreciate you taking the time. And
Yannick Benjamin: [01:34:32] I just want to say one thing you and I don’t, you know, and I thank you so much for those kind words, but. You know, this is a weird thing for me to say, but when I was told about you and who you were, you know about, you know, you were a chef and you were, and I said, Oh my God, it was a terrible thing to hear.
On the other hand, I said, well, I’m hoping that this guy he’s going to get involved and he can make a difference in our industry. And so there was this weird excitement. I said, well, it’s a [01:35:00] terrible thing, but on the other hand, He can have impact. And I think that, you know, I see it slowly, but surely, you know, having someone like yourself, getting involved in and really kind of coming to terms with their situation.
I want to thank you. And I know it’s not an easy situation for you, but. But I, you have been very gracious and very generous with your knowledge. And I know that it’s only going to continue to grow and to continue to get better, and we need more people like you. And hopefully we will have eventually one day there’ll be someone in the kitchen, a chef, maybe they’re not behind the line cooking, but I still think you can still be a chef and create dishes and create.
And I think you know that already, and I think we’ll see, that’ll be the new future for sure.
Eli Kulp: [01:35:39] Awesome brother. Really appreciate it.
Yannick Benjamin: [01:35:42] Thank you so much for everything.
Eli Kulp: [01:35:44] All right. Cool. Thanks, man. That was awesome.
Thanks for listening to The CHEF Radio podcast. If you’d like to support the show, please leave us a review. Wherever you listen to your podcast, it helps others find the show and allows us to continue to make great content. The CHEF Radio podcast is produced by RADIOKISMET. Post production and sound designed by Studio D Podcast Production and I am your host Eli Kulp.