Mason, is on a mission.
And it’s personal.
Spending any time with Mason Cochran, the 22-year-old Sous Chef at Cuisine Restaurant, would serve as a reminder to anyone, that hard work and determination, are STILL where successful careers begin.
Born and raised in nearby Okemos, Michigan, Mason’s original focus was on a business degree, but somewhere along that early career path,…things changed.
While studying business in college, Mason picked up some side jobs in restaurants, to “pay the bills”.
(As a side note, this is a reoccurring theme in a vast majority or everyone who’s now in the food service industry).
Thankfully, the ones who recognize it early, they don’t waste years in a painfully agonizing “first careers”.
Doing something that their heart really wasn’t into, only having to admit to themselves later, (after much soul searching), that their first best destiny, was being a Chef.
Mason, now knows what he wants.
And, where he wants to be.
His eyes are wide open, and his focus is clear.
He’s on a mission.
As I spoke with Mason, I asked myself, where did this drive of his come from?
When did the “light bulb” come on?
How did this epiphany of Mason’s, really occur?”
So, I asked just that.
“I had been working in a number of restaurants in the Okemos area, and then one day, it just finally made sense to me, that I should be doing something that I knew I really liked, rather than to pursue a career in business that I thought I liked”, said Mason in a very determined way.
Where does one go from there?
Mason never felt like the town of Okemos, was where his final destiny would really lay.
Which is a bit unusual, because many cooks in this industry, never really feel comfortable leaving their own home town.
Venturing out into the ether of the culinary universe is a pretty brave thing to embark upon, especially if you’ve grown up in a “small” town.
Chicago, Miami, San Fran, or even Europe? These are places that most mid-western, home-grown cooks never give much thought to.
Let alone actually do.
For Mason, his next stop was the Culinary Arts program at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan.
And there, as luck would have it, was Chef Paul Grosz, studying for his Master Chef certification, which was coincidentally administered that year, by the American Culinary Federation.
At, of all places, Schoolcraft College.
Like so many things in life, being in the right place at the right time can change your career, your destiny.
The American Culinary Federation’s Certified Master Chef title, is a rigorous exam, and is awarded to very few Chef’s.
Most Chefs who take this exam, practice their cooking, baking and plating techniques for weeks if not months to prepare themselves for this demanding written and practical exam.
Regardless of your former culinary schooling, your decades of Chef experience, or your well-earned press clippings, it’s rigorous and it’s pressure packed.
Especially because it is administered under the watchful eyes of current Master Chefs themselves.
Mason commented, “I was a student there at the time, and I was asked if I might be willing to assist Chef Paul as he went through his practice sessions. What an honor!”
It was from those sessions and that experience at Schoolcraft College, that Mason came to the attention of Chef Paul and was eventually offered the opportunity to take his own “practical exam” at Cuisine restaurant.
In this case, under Chef Paul’s watchful eye.
All, to see if he was “Cuisine” material.
It was a test that he passed, and thus began his tenure at Cuisine, as a cook, in February of 2022.
10 months later, Mason’s continued ambition led him to approach Chef Paul about a Sous Chef position, which, he was eventually offered.
For those inside the industry, making the leap from a line cook, (or Chef de Partie) as the French call it, to a Sous Chef, is more than just a title, or a little more pay, it’s the first “real” step into kitchen management.
No longer are you just responsible for a single station in the cooking line. Not just 5 or 6 dishes. Not even just cooks for that matter.
You are now, generally speaking, the second in command, as sous in French, translates to beneath or under.
And that means, if the Chef goes under, so do you.
So, in asking Mason, what was the biggest challenge he faced in his first weeks of being a Sous Chef, he responded as I expected.
“Directing the staff, moderating all the interpersonal relationships, cross training everyone so that they all knew each part of the line and keeping everyone on task”, was at the very top of his list.
As you might notice, cooking great food, wasn’t part of his answer. Knowing the culinary expectations of Chef Paul, was a given. You darn well better have that part down.
Having said that, as a Sous Chef, or any cook for that matter, even the Chef, perfecting your craft, every day, every shift, every dish, is a life-long endeavor.
The fire in Mason’s belly to improve his own cooking skills, and to explore the world while doing so, is still as hot as the copper cladded sauté pan he’s searing tonight’s order of scallops in.
He now has his sights set on New York.
Brooklyn to be exact. Which, to many foodies, is one of THE most happening, hipster culinary scenes on the planet.
It seems that he simply fell in love with Gotham city on his very first visit a short while back. He loved the hustle and the bustle, and he knew right then there, that that was his mission’s next stop.
I asked him just how he went about finding that first “right place” in New York.
“Well, I picked up a Michelin guide for New York and started emailing everyone with any email I could find. I harassed them”, he said with a huge grin.
And what’s Mason’s greatest strength?
“I’m stubborn” Mason relied after a moment of thought. “I’ve never let anyone tell me I can’t do something”, “
And, as to one of his greatest lessons he’s learned from Chef Paul?
“Work clean, work fast”, he said with conviction. “To do that is to master your craft”. He replied.
When I’ve been told I’m not good enough for something I strive to get better and better. It motivates me.
It used to bother me when someone told me I was wrong about something , then I learned that maybe if I was wrong, it
Sometimes, you can be wrong. But you need to work at it until you learn to be right.
If you’re told you’re dreaming too big… dream bigger.” Mason concluded.
I learned from Mason that sometimes, it’s hard to stop ambition.
Especially when it’s supercharged with enthusiasm, and a dream.
No doubt there will be many more lessons learned, dreams altered by life’s-twists, its turns and its surprises.
But Mason is on a mission.
On December 8th of this year, Mason’s next chapter begins
One, that many cooks once dreamed a dream of, and some took the courage to take.
I think his dream is realistic however, he’s put the time in.
Paid some dues.
He’s going in with eyes wide open, and with some chops behind his chops.