Penthouse808 chef Seth Levine: From finance to food in one night
It is often said that accomplishing your dreams doesn't happen overnight. However, for Seth Levine, it did.
Since April 2013, Levine has been the executive chef at the newly reopened Penthouse808 at the Ravel Hotel (8-08 Queens Plaza South, Long Island City), along with six other restaurants, including Gurney's Resort in Montauk.
He started his first career on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, eventually making his way into Goldman Sachs. In May 2007, Levine jumped at a chance to audition for the Fox competitive cooking show "Hell's Kitchen" and was cast the next day. He left finance to pursue his new cooking career. Levine, 34, lives in Midtown west.
Why did you leave finance?
It honestly was just never my dream. I went into finance for monetary reasons rather than actual passion.
How did you become a chef overnight?
I went to culinary school prior to working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. I lived in Italy, went to culinary school in Italy, came back, and pretty much I got this job on Wall Street for money reasons and I stuck with it for a long time just because the money was so good. I became a chef overnight after I left Goldman Sachs and I tried out for "Hell's Kitchen."
Can you tell us about being on "Hell's Kitchen"?
The day I left Goldman Sachs there was a line outside of a bar right next to where I live and I just literally tried out for the show. I was in my clothes from the stock exchange, I was in my suit with a pink tie, and just tried out and I got a call back. Two weeks later I was in front of a camera, and a month and a half later I was in [Los Angeles] filming the show. "Hell's Kitchen" is a Fox show starring Gordon Ramsay. [It's] a 15-year running show already, a competition reality show where 15 chefs compete. The winner gets their own restaurant and a . It's an elimination process show.
So did you win?
I did not win, and I kind of like that I didn't win because it kind of made me more determined to do what I'm doing now. And I guess I can pat my back and say, out of every season on that show, I believe I'm the most successful chef to come off that show.
Were you always interested in cooking?
I've been cooking since I was a little boy, since I'm 6, 7 years old. My parents just said, 'Go play in the kitchen, whatever you want to do, go make a mess.' And it's just something that intrigued me always. I always watched the cooking channels, and there was no internet either so if something looked good you'd have to write it down really fast, and then my mom would take me to the grocery store and buy the ingredients that I thought I understood them saying.
What is another favorite pastime?
I love racing cars, I love sports cars. My dad and I used to go to the track a lot.
How did working in finance prepare you to be a chef?
It's helped me in a million ways. Most chefs don't have a finance background. In the kitchen one of the most important things in a successful restaurant is ordering properly, knowing your ordering costs and getting your food percentages and your food costs correctly. I can compute in my head in seconds.
Looking back, do you wish you had gone into this originally?
No, if I had gone into this originally I wouldn't really have the business background. Well first of all I absolutely love the fact that I have the knowledge of Wall Street in my head, it will always be a hobby of mine. And the fact that I know the market in and out and have that in my head, I can't pay for that knowledge.
What is a pro and a con of your new job?
A pro is definitely walking the dining room floors and seeing the amount of people that absolutely love the food. It's always an amazing feeling to see someone smile after taking a bite of your food. I guess the negative is, it doesn't happen often, but if someone doesn't like it, it's a let-down that someone wasn't happy with something I created, and it definitely drives me to make that dish better.
Do you have any advice for readers who are considering a career 180?
Definitely go for it but go for it after you already have another job in place. I would never suggest leaving something before you have something else in the backburner.