Arts & Culture

Trent Page ’98, chef de cuisine at Google, dishes on his experience

Page worked as an investment banker for nearly five years before embracing his culinary passions

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, April 17, 2014

After studying international relations as an undergraduate, Trent Page’98 began his career in the food industry as a dishwasher in New Zealand.

Trent Page ’98 followed a somewhat unconventional recipe for success in the culinary world. For most of his twenties he worked in Manhattan as an investment banker, but this textbook post-Ivy path took a turn when he realized he was more interested in the restaurant menus at company dinners than IPOs. These days, Page works as the chef de cuisine for Bon Appetit at Google’s YouTube Cafe. He spoke with The Herald about jumping into the frying pan of the culinary world, ruining 60 pounds of foie gras and coming to admire his wife’s cocktail prowess.

 

Herald: How did you end up working in the culinary arts? 

Page: I studied International Relations at Brown and worked as an investment banker in New York City for almost five years before I even started cooking professionally. It was a good learning experience, but finance didn’t speak to me as a person. I didn’t get the same gratification. I was looking for something with more of a human element. One of the things I remember most about investment banking was the fine dinners. Half the time I was more interested in what we were eating and ordering than what people had to say on the deal we just closed.

I moved to New Zealand and started as a dish washer at a restaurant in Wellington with French-influenced cuisine. I washed dishes for a couple months and then started prepping. After three months, I moved to making salad, risotto, hot and cold dishes at a station — after they saw I could peel a potato.

After living in New Zealand for eight months, I went back to school at the International Culinary Center in downtown SoHo. I needed to play catch up. I was 29 with very little or no cooking experience. The school’s career services resources got me through the door at Cafe Boulud, run by Daniel Boulud, a very well-known French chef who now has restaurants all over the world.

I showed up, not knowing what I was doing. I spent almost three years there and worked every station in the kitchen. That’s really where I learned how to cook, much more so than anything I learned in school. To this day, some of my very best friends are from that kitchen.

After opening a wine bar and restaurant and living in New York for almost 12 years, my girlfriend and I decided it was time to leave. We did a cross-country trip, spent seven weeks or so driving, eating our way across the country. We didn’t have jobs, we didn’t even know we would end up in San Francisco.

I was lucky enough to get an offer from Bon Appetit at Google. I am now the chef of cuisine and management at YouTube.

 

What was it like working at illustrious restaurants, like Cafe Boulud? 

It was difficult from a physical and mental standpoint. The standards are so high, speed is so important. But you really bond with the people you work with because it is so physically and mentally trying to work in a place that is always in the pursuit of perfection. There were times when I would make over 100 orders in one night, as fast as I could.

At the time, I was almost 30, which is old for a cook. Early twenties is a more common age to be a line cook in a restaurant, or even younger. Some kids start cooking when they are in high school. I was closer to the age of the chefs. I would tease myself. ‘‘Take it easy, I’m the old guy.’’

 

What is it like working at Google? 

We feed around 600 people at lunch. Any food that Google needs, we are in charge of making it. We don’t want to serve a rich, decadent restaurant meal. People want to go back to work after lunch, not take a nap. Google is an incredible partner as far as their food values from a health and sustainability aspect. The menu changes everyday and we make everything from scratch.

Unfortunately, these days I have less and less time to spend in the kitchen. I write all the menus and order all the food. I get to cook a little every once in a while, but when I do, my staff laughs at me. I am really the old guy right now.

 

What was your biggest cooking fiasco? 

I managed to ruin almost 60 pounds of foie gras au torchon, which is pretty expensive. I’m not sure what I did. I went out to dinner with a couple co-workers. They were nice enough not to tell me until after dinner.

 

What is the most satisfying thing about cooking? 

You don’t usually see the diners’ satisfaction directly. You work for the accolade in the press, but also to please the people around you. I was thankful to be working with talented chefs. If they thought something I made was awesome, that gave me a lot more satisfaction.

It is about feeding people and the feeling of community that comes from that. Most of my experiences growing up happened at a dinner table, at a restaurant, at a wedding where food was involved. It is fun to be part of that moment where people are having a memorable experience, even if it’s not the food itself they are focused on.

Now I cook more at home with my wife. She makes really good cocktails. We are a dangerous duo. She makes the drinks and after our guests have them, anything I make will taste good.

 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.