What It’s Really Like To Be A Private Chef, In Cleveland

Hey, what’s up? What’s up everybody? Welcome to another episode of Strategic Moves. I’m your host, Ken Dowell. This is a place where I bring art, culture, politics, and business all together, and I do it every Sunday right here on this station. Today we’re going to talk a little bit about the culture, the culture of our food.

You know, I’m a big foodie here and I love to eat. I love to cook. And today I have a guest on our program who actually taught me a little bit about cooking. He is the owner of Skylar Ray’s Catering right here, including Ohio. He’s a professional chef and a private chef to the stars. He’s none other than Chef Eric Wells.

If you don’t know anything about Mr. Wells, a little video so that you can get a little bit of his background.[00:01:00]

 I would like for you to welcome Chef Eric Wells to our program Chef. How you doing? I’m good. How’s everything with you today?

Having a little rough start today for some reason, man. I’m trying to get it together, man. We’re okay. . That’s cool. So chef. Mm-hmm. , I wanted to talk to you a little bit. Let the people get some background information about what you’ve been doing over the last few years here in Cleveland and, that, so you grew up here in Cleveland? Yeah. Born and raised. I’m a, kinsman kid. Grew up in the Mount Pleasant area. And yeah.

Yeah. I’m a kinsman kid. A [00:02:00] kinsman kid. And you know I was doing some research mm-hmm. And I didn’t know all these years I was working with you and I didn’t know you were a Wells, Wells , which was Trinity, he said.

Oh, his father was Mr. Paul Wells. Yes. Yes. Yeah. Mr. Wells was a big man in our city. He was an amazing man. He was president and business manager of Local 10 99, which were like street workers, the Garbagemen, the gentleman that gentleman and ladies who kind of worked, on the ground in the city.

 So we was president of that union for over 30 years. Right. So he was kind of prominent at that time, . And didn’t one of your brothers or Uncle Kim after him? Yeah, so my brother became the president after my father retired. And then, My cousin became the president of the union after my brother stepped down.

Wow. So it’s like being in your family for that union, Ty has been in your family for years. Yes, exactly. Except me. I have no desire or had no desire to do that. I needed to go a different route, but I do honor my father and my family for, what they’ve done [00:03:00] for this city. So what was it like growing up in that type of household?

Back then it was you and how many brothers and sisters? So it was myself and I had one brother, two sisters. One of my sisters unfortunately passed away. A couple years back. But, my sisters were older than me. My brother was only, four years older than me.

 So it was us and then my parents were raising my sister’s children too. Okay. So we were all around the same age. It was a total of five of us. Mm-hmm. In the household. And it was great. We had a mother who was the. You know, typical like kind of housewife mother.

Mm-hmm. That was, nurturing and caring. And then we had the father that was a hardworking man that, brought home the bacon, you know, Uhhuh mm-hmm. and made sure we were, living. Okay. So, we had a great, great upbringing in that community. Oh, that’s good. That’s good, man.

You know, back then, the community was very tight. Correct. And, and, and there were a lot of things. So I imagine you probably had the house everybody wanted to hang out at, at some point. . Well, only because we had a basketball hoop in the backyard. Huh? Everyone do it. , everyone came over and wanted to play basketball all [00:04:00] the time.

It drove my mother crazy. Mm-hmm. But we played basketball all the time and we just had a good time. We, had a great upbringing, my friends and I that we grew up with, we still talk about how wonderful our upbringing was. You know, obviously there was some crime and drugs and things like that Right.

In the neighborhood. But it was interesting. It was like we were shielded from that. Mm-hmm. We worried about playing basketball and then eventually meeting girls. That was it, . Exactly, exactly. That was all we thought about and talked about. So, I think that upbringing really shaped and molded who we are today as me and my friends and my, family members.

So did you take on, cooking at an early age, or It was something that came on down the road? So I always enjoyed cooking, cooked a lot with my mother when I was young. But don’t get a twist. I mean, I didn’t have a pink easy bake oven in the corner, you know, I, I still was out playing sports and things like that.

Mm-hmm. , but just enjoyed cooking. I just saw the joy and the passion that my mother I had. Mm-hmm. for like, preparing wonderful meals, especially around the holiday. And my mother ended up getting really sick she smoked for years. Okay. And it destroyed her, her lungs. Mm-hmm. [00:05:00] So she ended up eventually getting a lung transplant.

Okay. Which went well, but the anti-rejection medicines destroyed her kidneys, so she ended up passing away of renal failure. Okay. But I always enjoyed cooking with her and that’s what kind of inspired me to, become a chef. So let me ask you, when you were starting to cook, was it grilling first because there’s a difference in grilling and cooking.

You know, I believe, they’re the same, but they’re different. Right. Definitely. So it wasn’t grilling for me, it was cooking. My mother had this old cookbook, a couple of old cookbooks, and I always tell the story, the first recipe or first dish I’ve ever made. I was eight years old. Hmm. She had an old Betty Crocker cookbook.

Okay. And on the cover was a picture of this dish called Chicken kacha tori. Okay. So I begged my mother, man, can I please make it? Can I please make it? So finally she was like, okay, I’ll go buy all the ingredients and you can cook it. So she brought all this stuff. I came home, followed the recipe at eight years old and made this chicken Cato, and it was tomato sauce and chicken juice everywhere.

Wow. But, my family enjoyed it. it looked [00:06:00] just like the picture on the cover, and that’s when I initially fell in love with cooking. So I guess you perfected that meal as you got older. It’s funny, I made it once, probably in the last 15 years.

Wow. It was like in a cooking interview thing, and, and I made that dish and that was the first time I made it in like 15 years. What is one of your favorite dishes you like to make on, man? I do a lot of Southeast Asian cuisine. Mm-hmm. . So I do a lot of Thai cuisine. So Thai food is my favorite.

You know what? Matter of fact, you, you were running a, tie, cooking class. Exactly, exactly. I was thinking about taking my daughter and enrolling her in there cuz she likes cooking. And I, and I thought about it, matter of fact, I did, I tried to enroll her and it and it was already full. Your classes be going quick.

Yeah, un unfortunately, unfortunately the classes do sell out fast, but yeah, Thai cuisine is my favorite cuisine. And, the reason I love it is because it hits what I call the four ess. It hits the salty, sweet, spicy and sour. Oh yeah. More than any other cuisine in the world to me.

Mm-hmm. . And it hits those four and imbalances out really well. [00:07:00] So, you know, don’t wanna get technical, but that’s why I love that cuisine and, it’s such a diverse cuisine. So we will go back down the road a little bit. So outta high school and college, did you go off to college or you stayed home or?

So I went off to college. , well, crazy story. I went off to Florida and M Oh. So I was down in, Tallahassee and I was down there for about a month and a half. Mm-hmm. . And I came home because I was home sick. . It was the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life. But I came home because I was home staying, went to Cleveland State, then I ended up getting a job and kind of doing my thing and, and eventually, going to culinary school and, and again, it.

probably one of next to marrying my wife the best decision I’ve ever made going to culinary school. I was looking up and I was reading on your website and, you talked about, your mom was one of the ones who really told you, you ought to take the skill and, .

train it into something that you could do. What was you doing prior to making that decision? Cause you say you quit a decent job, you had a pretty good job, right? Yeah, I actually was working for Progressive Insurance. Okay. So I was [00:08:00] a supervisor at Progressive. Mm-hmm. And I was, making really good money mm-hmm.

And as I mentioned, my mother got really sick and passed away and one of the last things she told me before she passed away , was to take this gift that I had been blessed with to the next level. Mm-hmm. , I didn’t know what that meant, so I prayed on it and was given this vision of going to culinary school, but at the time, I’m, married children mortgage mm-hmm.

Right. You know, working for this Fortune 500 company. What was I gonna do? So my family decided to use my mother’s insurance money. Hmm. To send me to culinary school. So the culinary school I went to is called the International Culinary Arts and Sciences Institute. I heard that it’s out in Chesterland, so if you’re familiar with Loretta Paganini mm-hmm.

it’s her professional program. I ended up being the first African American to graduate from that program. Really? And then, once I graduated, you know, stayed at Progressive, so I was kind of doing my private chef stuff mm-hmm and then the Lord spoke to me again, and kept saying, leave Progressive, do this thing full-time.

I’m going to, take care of you. And I didn’t trust it. Mm-hmm. , honestly, until, about eight years later, I ended up quitting [00:09:00] Progressive and doing this thing full-time. So I’ve been full-time doing this since 2012. So I’m gonna go into the culinary school stuff, if you don’t mind. No problem. What was it like going into culinary school and then knowing that you were the only African American there? Coming from a position of, walking into this school, you selling insurance, you got a family, you got other things. Yeah. And I imagine you starting at the very beginning, and I imagine there were people in the class who maybe had a little more skills than you coming in the door.

What was that like? Man, so a couple of things here. One, because I was working during the day. I went in the evening, I went to school in the evening, and there were only seven of us in my culinary class. That was a help so that was big and no disrespect, but only three of us were intending on becoming chefs.

Hmm. The other four were people, and they were all four women that were just interested in learning how to cook better. Right. Cook better for their families, so, there was no like competition or anything like that where there was very little then it’s [00:10:00] amazing how God kind of lays out your path.

Mm-hmm. The school, Loretta Paganini School of Cooking. . I didn’t know this at the time until I got there. I didn’t put two and two together, but Loretta Pagan’s husband, is a doctor at Cleveland Clinic. He was my mother’s chief doctor at Cleveland Clinic. Wow. So he knew the family, he knew me,

and I didn’t put two and two together until I got there, . And I saw him there and I’m like, uh, Dr. Paganini, what are you doing here? And he was like, this is my wife’s, school. And I’m like, oh, I never put it together. So they kind of guarded me and protected me and made sure I was okay. Excellent.

So I look at them as my surrogate parents now, , you know? Mm-hmm. , and we still stay in touch. And they’re wonderful people. So at the beginning, you gotta learn knife skills, you gotta learn it all in order to graduate from a school like that. Right, exactly. So, knife skills were interesting.

That’s, early in the, program. Mm-hmm. . And, I went home with callouses on my hands constantly. Okay. Mm-hmm. One of the things we had to do was we had to whip cream. Mm-hmm. . So we had like a bowl of cream. [00:11:00] Mm-hmm. of heavy cream. And we had, with a whisk, we had to whisk the cream for five minutes.

Wow. And after five minutes we had to hold the bowl over our head. Hmm. And if we didn’t whisk it well enough, obviously would all fall . Oh. Oh, you said you had to hold it on you? Yeah. Over ahead. Like Yeah. Like turn, turn. So, okay. Thank God the mine turned out okay. So, yeah, it was wonderful. What was the hardest thing about the school?

the hardest thing. Now I don’t drink, I’m not recovering or anything like that. Mm-hmm. , but I’ve never been in alcohol or drinking or anything. We had a wine pairing night. No, mind you that I worked eight hours. We went to school for four hours after, you know, three, four hours after working. And we paired six wines with six dishes, you know, trying to get it.

And I’m driving home like praying, like, Lord, please don’t let me get pulled over. If I get pulled over, I’m gonna be in trouble. , right, right. Pair. So, you know, and then I found out that I wasn’t supposed to drink the one, I was supposed to taste it and spit it out. But you say you was wild. I just, [00:12:00] just

That’s what we supposed to do. That’s good. But, that was probably the most difficult. But, you know, it was challenging. The entire course was challenging. But, it was rewarding. Mm-hmm. And I’m really, really happy that it went well and I’m, again, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

So what would you think the most difficult dish you had to make there? Hmm. We had to make, a squid ink pasta. Hmm. So we had to make our pasta from scratch and, we had to add squid ink, to it and mm-hmm. squid ink, if you’re familiar, squid ink just goes everywhere. It’s literally the ink that squid makes mm-hmm.

and it’s on your hands, black all over your, it’s black, it’s all over the place. Then also Loreta Paganini is, Italian. It’s this dish that no one makes in America. It’s called Tim Ball. It’s hard to explain. It’s kind of like a lasagna, but it’s shaped like a cake.

Hmm. And you. Put all this stuff in it and you wrap it in pasta and you bake it. It’s the worst thing [00:13:00] ever. . It is literally the worst dish ever, . And we had to make that for our homework. And the funny thing about it was like our homework we had to bring in, you know, we had to make it home and bring it in and most of the time I’ll make the homework for my family to eat and then

I’m bringing in the rest for homework. When I made that, my family was like, oh, we’re getting fried chicken or something, . We’re not eating this. Wow. I ended up throwing it in the garbage. So what’s the ingredients in it? Oh man, it’s pasta. It is wrapped in pasta and then you can put almost anything you like in it.

Mm-hmm. , I think the recipe called for like a tomato sauce in it. There was like ground beef ground. And then you, like you put peas in it. Yeah. And you put all this stuff in it, but it, like, it’s shaped like a cake. Wow. You know? And you have to cut it and it comes out layer.

It’s like the worst. . It’s the worst. It’s literally worst. And what’s the name of it again? It’s called a Timal. Timal. Tim. Tim Ball. T i m b A. Oh, yeah. L e or so, you know, I, I’m, like I said, I’m a fool, so you know, I’m gonna be looking at up. Yeah. You gotta look up. It’s crazy. It’s crazy. So you, you got outta school, so in there, do they [00:14:00] teach you, I guess in culinary school it kind of gets you ready to figure out where you wanna go.

Like if you wanna be a baker, if you wanna be a chef. And what are the different things? I know we hear about bakers, but what other culinary. . So there’s technically two paths that you can go down. You can go down the, culinary path. Mm-hmm. , or you can go down the pastry path. Okay. Okay.

So the school does have a pastry program. Mm-hmm. , I did not wanna do the pastry thing because I do not like to bake . Right. So, we had a separate school for pastry. So if you come in, you say, I really just wanna be a pastry chef. Mm-hmm. , you can go do there and or if you wanna be culinary. So there are two different, okay.

Exactly. Yeah. The culinary program is, separate totally. Than the past program. And then they have the chef instructors that teach you the, entire pastry side of it, which is, really nice. And then, you know, obviously I’m on the culinary side, so, usually we don’t see too much of the pastry people and they don’t see too much of us.

You know, why not pastry man? I just don’t bake, man. I just, I don’t have the patience to bake what it is. I, yeah. I enjoy [00:15:00] like making some, and I hate measuring, I hate . That’s the worst thing. You gotta be exact in making. Yeah. That, that was the worst thing about writing this cookbook that I have.

Mm-hmm. is I had to measure everything, so. Wow. Yeah. Measuring is, oh, that’s right. You, you are in your cookbook. You have to measure everything. Yeah. Yeah. That was the worst part about it. So, being a cook, you hate to measure, you know, cooking so long, you kind of just got it, huh? Yeah, I mean it’s, I always tell people that cooking for me is, and, and I don’t know the little acronyms or whatever, but it’s about the three t’s is, is time, temperature, and technique.

If you can master those three things, the time you’re cooking, you know, the time of the dish you’re cooking mm-hmm. the temperature obviously, and the technique, you can make almost anything, you know? I think a lot of people get messed up with cooking. They get so distracted on other things.

You know, television, talking on the phone, right. Getting their children together. Mm-hmm. the next thing you know, their dishes not the way that they wanted it to be. . Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . So lemme ask you this then. Now you gotta finished with culinary school and you said, Hey, I’m going to, [00:16:00] as you say, you went back to work and mm-hmm.

doing that. What made you decide that, hey, I think I wanna do this? So when I graduated from culinary school I was at Progressive and, a couple of the employees at Progressive. Progressive was a large organization. They said, Hey, you know, you graduated from culinary school, I’ll, can you come to my house and cook for me?

And my. my husband or me and my wife, you know, that’s, I see that on tv. I see the stars Don’t get in that, can you do that? And I was like, um, sure. I guess. So I did it for a couple of people at Progressive. Mm-hmm. , then it blew up. It just spread, you know, people at Progressive, Hey, you know, Eric Wells can do this, and you know, you’ll come to your home.

And then Theary TV thing happened, and when the TV thing happened, it just kind of took it to the next level. And then the Lord kinda start showing me listen, you can do this. You don’t have to work at Progressive anymore.

And I eventually decided to leave Progressive , which is not an easy decision. Mm-hmm. . Yeah. And then started your own business then, right? Yeah. So full time, when I graduated and I started cooking for, people at Progressive, that’s when I started Skylar [00:17:00] Race. Okay. So I kind of get, you know, got the L O C together, kind of got a website going on, and just kind of built it from there.

still working at Progressive, still doing my thing, but the business start kind of really growing. And then the other thing that really helped was when I was at the culinary school. The culinary school has a, recreational program mm-hmm. Where anyone can come out similar to the my classes at Grow and Coia.

Mm-hmm. . And they asked me to teach out there. Okay. So I began teaching. I was the first African American chef out there, as far as instructor. So, I started to teach and you know, my classes were girls night out classes on Friday nights. Mm-hmm. and all these, you know, rich, very, very kinda high flu women.

Mm-hmm. will come out there and take the classes and I’ll tell them what I do. Oh, wow. Chef. We’ll love to have you at my house. And then that was another another business. Right. So, you know, I started getting a lot of business that way from people who, took my classes out there at the, school. I remember hearing in one of your interviews you talked about, Going into business.

Mm-hmm.[00:18:00] And this is a show we try to educate some of the business people and try to give ’em information that will help them as well. Mm-hmm. . And so we’re gonna talk a little bit about the ups and downs of business, right? I remember when you were going to open up the restaurant mm-hmm.

that you guys, that was a big thing cause you were opening up a restaurant and it was also a big thing when it didn’t happen. Mm-hmm. Yes. And you talked a little bit about. , I’m trying to make up your mind when you were just hustling, doing everything. I tell people I did that a lot, you know?

Mm-hmm. in 25 years of being in business, it was a lot of business. The business changed, even now that I’m doing a podcast, it’s another changing in the type of way we do business or still trying to do the same thing we do. Just how we do it. You know, we always change it. So, talk to us about the business, when and what happened.

Yeah. So part of leaving Progressive and, to get kind of deep into it mm-hmm I was praying, praying, praying. Like, what should I do? Leave progressive, stay progressive, so someone approached me and say, Hey, listen, I know you’re a chef.

I have this building [00:19:00] that’s used to be a restaurant. I would love to you come and open it and do a restaurant there. Now the vision that got it given me was to leave Progressive and continue to do my private chef stuff, continue to go to people’s homes. , but I saw the opportunity to open a restaurant and, I said, okay, this is the path.

This is why. So I ended up leaving Progressive, putting in my two weeks notice, and left Progressive like three months later, cashed out my 401K and put it all into this restaurant. And we were about three or four days before opening. And the last thing I had to do was have the county health inspector come in and he an I inspected building.

So they came in and inspected a building and told me, unfortunately we cannot open this business. You can’t open a restaurant here because there’s asbestos everywhere. Hmm. And I was like, what? You know, so the building owner never told me about the asbestos. And, I couldn’t open the restaurant and I put on all this money and only thing I can do is just go away from it, you know?

And I can be real honest with you, Ken. Yeah. I went [00:20:00] through 2012. and I always talk about it. My wife and I talk about it all the time. Mm-hmm. 2012 was the lowest point probably in my life. Mm-hmm. . Cause I had left Progressive and I’m up here and I couldn’t open this restaurant. All my business kind of dried up because everyone knew I was opening a restaurant mm-hmm.

So they said, oh chef, we just come and support you at the restaurant. So I went through a little depression. I was really down, lost a ton of weight mm-hmm. and honestly, contemplated suicide, you know? Mm-hmm. I was like, what is going on? And I’m praying every day I’m asking God, you know, why did this happen?

Why, you gave me this gift and why can’t it do it? And the Lord honestly told me, you have to give me a hundred percent of yourself. Mm-hmm. , you can’t give me 95 or 99%, you gotta gimme a hundred percent of yourself. And I’m praying, I’m tithing, I’m going to churches.

Such that, and a problem with me, and I’m be honest with you, was pride. Mm-hmm. pride and really started kind of building up inside me. And I’ll give you an example here, Ken. , I started being on Fox eight in the morning like a ton, right? Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . And what I would do, Ken, was [00:21:00] I would go, I would be on Fox eight, like in the morning,

and I would go to like a local mall and just walk around the mall so people can say, Hey, you’re that guy that was on TV today. Wow. Wow. You know? Cause I needed that. Wow. I needed that, that validation. Mm-hmm. And again, in 2012, God just revealed all that to me and said, you have to get rid of your pride and stop doing that.

 And I remember the day I was on my knees with tears running down my eyes saying, God, I’m done. I’m done with the pride thing. I’m done with all of that. And things start turning around. People start calling celebrities, start calling . Mm-hmm. , you know, there are people start calling and then it just, it built back up.

My whole entire thing with that here is I just, I gave it all up to God, you know, and, now he just kind of guides and keeps me. And I will tell you man, that’s very important in business. Yes, sir. Because a lot of people don’t understand that happens to a lot of people in business.

Right. While you were telling the story, I was thinking like, you know, it is just a way of stepping back. Mm-hmm. and your clients and everyone else. While you were saying that they probably thought you was doing very well and looked at you when your restaurant didn’t open, [00:22:00] no matter how much you explained to ’em, it wasn’t your fault.

They still thought it was your fault. Exactly. It was something you did wrong. It was something you, oh, don’t call him now. Mm-hmm. . But like you say, why is my other business drying up because of this? I still should be able to come to your house and cook for you. Right? Correct. But they’re thinking that. . Oh, you can’t open up a restaurant.

There’s something wrong with you. Yeah. That was the other side of it. So yeah, it’s a big side of that man. That’s how one thing in business can affect the other thing and being a business owner, it’s really rough. And to the point that you say you were contemplating suicide, which is huge, man.

 I’m really glad you were able and there’s a whole lot of people out here. Really glad that you were able to mess it through that and get through that man. I mean, I can give a lot of credit, if not all the credit to my wife. My wife has a really, really good job and, she was holding it down and that’s the other side of it.

Mm-hmm. , you know, being a man, married children, I got a baby, can I, can I add $20? You know, ask my wife and money and things like that. Right. You know, and the other thing was one of my daughters who was graduating from high school at that time, and I’m telling you [00:23:00] a point they hit me, man, was when

I couldn’t even contribute to her like prom or her graduation. Mm-hmm. . Cause I had no money. and, we had to kind of scrape up money to get her to prom and scrape up money to get her to, graduation and to college. We getting loans to get her to college and Right.

You know, praise God she, graduated from college and everything. But, yeah, it was a difficult time, but it humbled me, it kept me ground. and I’m , glad that it happened, you know? Mm-hmm. , because I don’t know where I would be right now with the pride kind of building interview.

Oh man, you would be too much. Yeah. It drove you too much because the crashing of that is the biggest piece Yes. Is like imagine if you’d have got that and you would’ve crashed Yeah. You really wouldn’t know what you would’ve done.

Yeah. You see what I mean? So, yeah, definitely. It was that part of it that you were able, to get through that and family is the most important part. So I totally get what you’re saying, man. So we gonna move on to the little happier side of game stand. No problem. So from that standpoint, man, why not the food truck?

You can build a food truck, run across America, win some prizes. Why not the food truck? Man, I just don’t [00:24:00] think Cleveland is, conducive for a, food truck because you can only have it six months out of a year.

 I was riding down the street the other day coming here cause it’s a food truck being there. And when I got to the stop sign, I was like, this sure would’ve been nice if that food truck was here today. But it was freezing outside. Yeah. And I understood why. You know, and, the other thing too is, Cleveland’s an an interesting food city.

Hmm. And I say interesting in a good way and a bad way. Mm-hmm. We’re oversaturated with food trucks, especially in the summertime. And this is no disrespect to people who own a food truck. Mm-hmm. , I give you guys a lot of credit. Something I can’t do. I have no desire to have a food truck.

Mm-hmm. . But in the summertime, there’s hundred. , if not thousands of food trucks in the Cleveland area. Mm-hmm. that’s just something I’ve just never been into. I mean, I love going to him. I love supporting him. Whenever, I see him around, I try to stop and get something, especially in the summertime.

Mm-hmm. , but it’s just not my niche. You know what, a friend of mine, he makes this scenario, he’s a business businessman. Mm-hmm. . And he makes this scenario all the time. He says, if you can make it in Cleveland, you can [00:25:00] make it anywhere.

Mm-hmm. . And he said, In New York you can put up a hotdog stand and damn near raise a family. He said in Cleveland, if you put up a hotdog stand and you put up one on the next corner, the guy who’s on that other corner probably walk down there and try to kill you.

Yep. . Cause you taking all his business. Cause it’s just not that many people here, so I understand what you mean about the food truck. Yeah. It’s pretty much that way with restaurants doing this city. We don’t have the median income to support the number of restaurants that we have in this city, and I wish we did.

But we’re not Chicago, we’re not la we’re not New York. We don’t have the kind of income in this city where we can go out to dinner three, four times a week. You know? We go out to dinner basically three times a year. We go out for birthdays, anniversaries, and sometimes on New Year’s Eve.

Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . And that’s pretty much it. Mm-hmm. And again, I try to support my local, restaurant entrepreneurs in this city, and you know, the other thing in here too is Ken, we don’t like new things in Cleveland.

Hmm. We don’t like [00:26:00] new foods, different foods. Mm-hmm. We like to kind of stay in our little lane mm-hmm. with regards to food, and I’m not saying everyone, but a large percentage of people in Cleveland do not like to try new things. You know? So , I think you might be onto something there. Yeah.

I mean, if I opened, in no disrespect, but if I opened a fried chicken joint mm-hmm. , and, I sold fried chicken, I don’t do very well. But if I tried to do something like, middle Eastern cuisine, especially in our community, we wouldn’t support it.

Right. Right. You know, because it’s not what we’re quote unquote used to. But do you think we got a strong enough Middle Eastern community now in Cleveland that could Well, and I know you just used that as an example. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But yeah, I mean, I think you would get. , some people that come, but then you start getting into the, when will they come?

Will they come, you know, once a week or will they come once every three or four months? Because we’ve had some, like ta there’s some restaurants here that are Middle Eastern restaurants, and I, have a couple Middle Eastern friends I hang with. And because they’re never crowded Correct.

Yeah. So, you know, it’s the same thing. Yeah. Cleveland’s interesting and I think the [00:27:00] pandemic hurt Cleveland a lot because there were a lot of restaurants there were scheduled to open in 2020 and 2021. And because of the pandemic, they weren’t either able to open or they had to downscale.

 And, it changed a lot. I mean, Cleveland was ready to kind of break out with, the new food scene kind of places. Mm-hmm. in the area. But again, with the pandemic, it just kind of shut everything down. What do you think about during that pandemic with the type of business that you run mm-hmm.

Yeah. And what you do. How did that affect you? Because I imagine people wasn’t trying to call a personal chef over during the band actually is the exact opposite. I had my best year ever, , say you a roller. I March of 20 to March of 21. I had my best really, um, year over date, than I’ve ever had. Because you gotta think about it, people still wanted to celebrate birthdays.

People still wanted to celebrate anniversaries, but they weren’t going to restaurants. Restaurants were close. So people were calling me, Hey chef, listen, my anniversary, whenever, we usually go to X restaurant for dinner on our anniversary, but it’s closed, because of the pandemic, can [00:28:00] you come over and make dinner for us?

Mm sure. So I was coming over mask on mm-hmm. And making dinner for people. Wow. I had my best year ever. Wow. 20 to 21? Yeah. Wow. Okay. Yeah. Booked almost every single day. Really almost every single day. So how big is your staff chef? So we have a staff. It’s myself and six others.

Okay. But I do the private thing. The intimate dinner is for two. I do just me and myself, me, myself, and I. Oh, you come by yourself and you cook off. When I do the dinners for two, it’s just me, you know? So what I do is I go to a couple’s home and I do a six course dinner in their home, and I bring everything, Lenn, flowers, candles, food, of course, China, silverware, everything.

The only thing I use it airs is they’re stove in their water. And I clean up afterwards, listen, six courses, man, . So , so the, the six courses, the first course it’s called, and a moose bush and a muses your palate. Usually it’s something really, really small. I do something like a little shot glass of, tomato soup and a shot glass.

You just get started. Or I do a little cini, like a little toast with mm-hmm. [00:29:00] tomato ba. I’ll take the Christina over the tomato shot. . He keeps the tomato shot. Okay. So the second course is the salad course. Okay. The third course is the appetizer, the fourth course, it’s called an inter meso.

The inter meso is a palate cleanser. So I do a little sorbet on the spoon, the cleanse their pate to get them ready for their entree. The entree is the fifth course. Desert is the sixth course. Hmm. So, and again, I bring everything clean up afterwards, and I’ve been blessed Ken to do over 2200 of those in the Cleveland Akron.

Ken in Columbus area, 2200, 2200, and in Cleveland a Wow. Ken in Columbus area. So I met a ton of couples. And it’s more than me, Ken, just coming to their home and just throwing food on the table. We’re conversing all night. Mm-hmm. . So we’re talking about how they met. Their dating story, their wedding, their anniversary.

Mm-hmm. Vacations that they’ve been on, their favorite local restaurants, things like that. So by the end of the evening, as I’m cooking and serving them. We’re like best friends. Yeah. And they’re like, chef, we’re gonna have another event. We’re gonna have my friends and family come over and we want you to cook for us again.

And that’s [00:30:00] just how organically the, business has grown. What’s the most requested meal? It’s always surfing. Turf. Always surfing. So I have 15 different menus you can choose from. Mm-hmm. . And one of them is serving turfing. I’ll say 20% of the time I’m doing surfing turf.

Everybody got caught up in these lamb chops lately. I thought they would be trying to get these lamb chops. The lamb is very popular. Lamb chops in, what is the other one? Oxtails. Jesus Christ. I bet the cow was like, man, I never thought my tail would ever be worth this amount. That’s funny. I do oxtails, but I only do oxtails on my cooking classes.

Mm. I have these braised short. We won’t get into that. I got a short video. Ribs are amazing. Them short ribs. We gonna talk about them. Short ribs that your short ribs made. Me wanna put it on this video. , y’all stay tuned you of this video. We chef go show y’all these short ribs. Short ribs. Amazing.

So great. They’re really good. Yes. So I met you at, bur Bell Carr. Yes. I wanted to lose some weight and one of the things that, my nutritionist told me was, that we should learn how to cook.

Mm-hmm. . And so we went [00:31:00] there. I think you did a class with you Veil Scott. Chef Robin Blair. She was one of the other ones that was there. And I had a good time there. Me and my wife. We took classes there, learned a lot, from you guys and. One thing we didn’t learn to do, man. , you can give us any hit, man.

What’s the secret to cooking fried chicken, man. My most popular cooking class I can tell you right now is my Southern Classics class, which we do fried chicken.

So I do a buttermilk fried chicken with a honey and hot sauce glaze. See that sounds just like what I want. . So what we do is we soak the chicken and buttermilk. We soak it for about 20 minutes, take it out. And we season it.

We season salt, pepper, garlic powder, gar, onion powder, little cayenne pepper, things like that. We both season the chicken, then we season the flour. Now it’s two keys to making good fried chicken. One is the oil temperature, right? And two is the, your batter, your flour. Mm-hmm. . So what we do is we do four parts flour to one part corn starch.

Okay. [00:32:00] So if we use four cups of flour, use one cup of corn starch. What that corn starch does is it actually makes the chicken super crispy. Mm-hmm. the corn starch, that’s where you get those little kernels of crispiness. Mm-hmm. and then chicken. So we take the, chicken out of the. Buttermilk.

We season it, we dredge it in that flour, corn starch mixture. We put the temperature of the oil at 350 degrees. Very important. I think people try to get it too hot. Right. And the 3 75 or 400 degrees. Mm-hmm. And you just, burn the outside of the chicken and the inside the chicken and it’s raw.

E exactly. So what we have is, and also as I mentioned, technique is important. So, having a proper vessel to cook it in is correct. So we have this big, what we call a Rondo, this big rondo that we fry the chicken in, and we do about nine minutes from one side, turn it over, eight minutes, nine minutes on the second side, it’s done.

Hmm. And then the chicken’s done seasonal with salt. And as soon as it comes out, you have perfect fried chicken. Perfect fried chicken. , all right. So then you started doing these classes, so Yes.

Is that [00:33:00] something you bought on as a business? So what happened was, I was teaching out at Paganini. School of Cooking. And one day I was watching the news and I saw that they were building this facility on kinsman.

And I’m a kinsman kid, so I’m thinking, wow. , I called Burton Bellen car and said, Hey I saw , your news thing and I would love to be part of it. And they said, what’s your name? And I said, Eric Wells. And they said, chef Eric Wells.

I said, yeah, . They were like we know who you are, can you come down, meet with us? I said, sure. So he is planning a meeting. I at Allen with them, and they said, listen, we know little and nothing about how this place should look or whatever. Can you tell us what to do? So I’m not an artist, but I kinda wrote out where things should be.

 We should have this large island here. Oh, so you design that kitchen, man. Oh, I’m, I’m gonna say I designed it, but I’m not an architect, so, no, that’s fine. I told ’em where everything should be. This should be here, this should be here. That’s beautiful. If you’ve seen it out at my culinary school out in Chester, , we have this place called the gingerbread House.

Mm-hmm. , it’s almost exactly the way the gingerbread house is laid out. Okay. So that’s where I got the vision. Like, it should be like this, it should be like this, [00:34:00] it should be like this. And three months later, showed me the diagrams.

Mm-hmm. said, look great. They built it. And we’ve been there ever since. That’s nice, man. It did. Did you see the kitchen they built in Glenville at the east side market? Yeah. It’s a beautiful kitchen, it’s a beautiful facility. It is Nice. Beautiful facility. Yes.

So Yeah. I’m still teaching at Cornucopia Place. We’re going into our 14th season of cooking classes like corn, Coria. Mm-hmm. , I call him cooking with Chef Wells. Mm-hmm. the current season is sold out. But the new season is starting always sold out. Man. I’m telling y’all, y’all, if y’all wanna get in that class, you gotta get there.

Cause he is sold out all the time. But the new season will start in April. I’m putting together the classes now. Mm-hmm. They’ll be sold on Eventbrite, so you would need to jump on Eventbrite and make a payment. But they’ve been wildly successful. Mm-hmm. , it’s crazy. In the diversity in my class, I mean this season, more than half the people that have attended my class have been non-black. Wow. Yeah. And people are like, Hey, I just heard about your classes. I’m coming from Columbus. Somebody come in from Detroit area. Wow. Wow. And people come in from Pennsylvania

to take your classes. Well see, [00:35:00] that’s cause you a good cook. Italian let’s talk about that cookbook right there, man. So this is Cookbook Cooking with Chef Wells, intimate dinners for two. Mm-hmm. What I did was I had 29 of my favorite couples that I cooked for. Share their story in the book. So it’s like their picture and their story of like how they met their dating story. Mm-hmm. their wedding, their anniversary. . So it’s really interesting. Some great couples in here and it’s really funny.

 We put this book together. It was released in 2000. and I still have people that stop me and say, chef, I love the book. But I can tell you I’ve never looked at one recipe. I just read the stories of the couples. So, man, you got stories for days, I’m sure. Yeah. I’ve been contemplating working on this second book and, this one took a lot out me, so I understand. I am getting the second book together. Hopefully will be a little easier. Yeah. So let’s talk about some of the people

that you, had the honor of cooking for. I’ve cooked for Mary J Blush. What’s that like? So the Mary j Bli scene was interesting. Just a quick story. It was in June. About 10 years ago and, I have a relationship with [00:36:00] like Radio one. Okay. 93, 1 0 7 9 them. So they contacted me and said, Hey chef, are you busy today? No. What’s going on? They said, listen, it’s seven o’clock in the morning. Mary j Blas in town this evening, her caterers canceled out on her.

We need someone to cater breakfast, lunch, and dinner for her and her staff all day long. 80 people. Can you do it? Yes or no? Wow. Um, yeah, I guess we could do it. . So I called my staff, I’m calling my vendors.

They said, okay, chef, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We need breakfast served at 9:00 AM this morning. It’s seven o’clock. Right? . So whoa. I said, okay. So I am just calling my vendors like, listen, whoa, I need food. I don’t know what I need, but I need food. So my vendors were so good. So lemme ask you, when you say your vendors, what’s a vendor?

Like who you, who’s a vendor? Like you call like So I’m a West side market guy. Oh, so you call any of people at the market and Alright, I gotcha. And they’re just giving me food outta food and food and I’m like, listen, I’ll pay you back Monday. I feel like the guy for Burger. [00:37:00] I gladly give you a burger today for money Tuesday or whatever you, I’ll gladly pay you back Tuesday.

Yeah. That’s what I felt like, but, so we got out there and we knocked out breakfast, lunch, and dinner for. Earner staff. But the interesting thing about it, was where they put us, so the catering company wouldn’t allow us to use their equipment or anything, so the only place they can put us is in the garage.

Like where the players park at the queue or, the Fieldhouse we’re in the garage, right? All the tour buses are in front of us with the smoke just bellowing out into us. They gave us three, six foot tables. They gave us an old, industrial, from the seventies, kind of like cooler.

 And they didn’t give us any cooktops or anything. So we cooked for 80 people all day long. , you know, those burners that, we flip out the cartridge, you know, the inductor, I mean, those little burners, that’s what we did. 80 people all day long make breakfast. That’s like that. Sheriff Irwin’s Show. Yeah. where he had growing places and got a cook real quick for all these people. [00:38:00] That’s what it felt like. Wow. That’s what it felt like. So we killed it. We, we knocked it out. So you met her? Met her. About three o’clock in the afternoon.

She gets off the tour bus to do her soundtrack. So she walks up to us. Hey, thank you very much for doing this last minute. I know this was last minute. Say, Hey, ain’t no problem at all. It was our pleasure to be here.

That was my only interaction with her. Wow. So my wife kind of took care of her dressing room. And the funny thing about it was they sent like the list of things that she needs.

In her dressing room, she needed 24 Twizzlers, not 25. Yeah, yeah. Not 23, 24 Twizzlers. Yeah. She needed some organic water, some organic tea and all this stuff. Mm-hmm. So they gimme the entire writer at the bottom of the writer. And I’m kidding you, not after. So all of this stuff, it said a 24 bucket of Popeye’s chicken.

It said that I should have printed it. I should have printed it and kept it as like a little thing. But yeah, we didn’t get the chicken. So , I’m gonna say that’s, we didn’t do that. Wow. But we made dinner for them, breakfast, lunch, and they, but the interesting thing [00:39:00] was at the end of the night, I’m walking out,

they’re like, chef, you know, do you and staff wanna stay for the concert? I’m like, no, I’m exhausted. I want to go home. So then we settled at a nice little five figure amount. Mm-hmm. . I’m thinking they’re going to write me a check or, cashier’s check and get this briefcase open.

A briefcase, a hundred dollars bills. Wow. I’m walking out adq in the middle of the summer, pockets fat, pockets fat , praying that God, please don’t lemme get robbed. If I get robbed, Diane, somebody gonna get me. You know? So, so it was worth the aggravation. It was one day, it was a one day job, but you, it was an all day, one day job.

And I would, you know, cause with my vendors I had to kinda like write checks and things like that. Mm-hmm. and I’m like, listen, don’t cash this check for about a week. Okay. . So you had to bring your burners out there, your cook, everything. Everything. What you cook ’em? What was the meal? So the breakfast we made bacon, eggs, sauces, we bought pastries.

Mm-hmm. We did grits, we did hash browns, things like that. And it wasn’t ready at nine o’clock. It was ready like closer to 10 30. Mm-hmm. . [00:40:00] But we knocked out all of that and we had fresh fruit all day. Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, all day long for lunch. We just did like a sandwich kind of thing.

We kind of made paninis. Okay. Like panini sandwiches. Mm-hmm. , for people, you know, or staff. And then we had like cold sandwiches and when we had soups and things like that, we bought soups, warmed it up, and for dinner we did a pasta like an Alfredo kind of style pasta. We did a, stir fry, like a rice kinda.

Mm-hmm. chicken and stir. We had a bunch of vegetables, rolls, things like that. And then, you know, desserts all day long. Fruit, like I said, and veggies all day long. So we just had this big display. So I’m on the Food network all day long. I’m one of these people and as a professional chef, there’s a lot of us out here now. Okay. Call ourselves foodies and call ourselves food experts and that and. don’t really have no more expertise than anything other than what we’d done, watched and learned on TV and know what we like to taste.

But do you think that the internet and these people is pushing all these people out there,. I mean, if your question is, the influence that. Social media and [00:41:00] all those things have done to food. I think it’s been very interesting. Everyone has an opinion, you know? Right. So, I guess everyone’s opinion is validated, and people can make videos and say, okay, this dish was great, this dish wasn’t good. I don’t have an issue with it at all. I kinda have an issue and I say this with, humility mm-hmm.

I have an issue with so many people calling themselves chefs. Ah, okay. I think being a chef is a earned title. Mm-hmm. , it’s not a, title that, you’ve been cooking in your mama’s kitchen for five years and now you’re a chef, I technically didn’t call myself a chef until, 3, 4, 5 years into me after I graduated from culinary school.

You know, even though people, Hey, you know, you’re a chef. Well, you know, I cook. I. Really, you know, don’t have the experience to be a chef. So I think people throw around the words chef a lot, a lot. If you want to call yourself that, that’s fine, but, I take a lot of value in being a chef.

And what about the food critics? I don’t have an issue with a food critic because again, everybody has an opinion, you know? And that’s the great thing about taste. I [00:42:00] may think one dish is amazing. Someone else may think it’s terrible. So it’s really interesting. I don’t really value food critics. I’d rather just go and taste it myself. I’ve had some interesting situations where, like, for example, I had this one foodie food critic person on internet and everything, and she had me over to her house to cook for her and her husband, and it was literally the worst house I’ve ever been in in my life. Have you ever seen this show Hoarders?

Well, really, really, that’s what it was like. It usually takes me about two and a half hours to do a dinner for two. It took me like 45 minutes to do it. I ran right through it. Whoa. I ran right through. She had an animal, she had a dog and the dog. Hair everywhere.

Mm. Dog climbing on the counters and everything. There’s stuff junk everywhere and I’m cooking, you know, it was the worst . Wow. So we gonna take a moment, I’m gonna play this video here and you kind of talk us through that. This is, the loft dinner party that you were having there at some point or another.

[00:43:00] Alright, so I have acquired this loft it’s actually, right here in InnerCity Cleveland, on 40th and, pain. I am now doing events there. everything from dinner parties to dinners for two. We’re doing cooking classes there, we’re doing larger kind of events.

 We took over this space, in like, November-ish. and we’re doing private events there. So the events are going really, really well. Y’all need to pay attention. Cause what’s about to come up on this screen is what we were just talking about.

Those are those short ribs. Now what is this you’re cooking at? So those are grits. Those are grits. I do these really creamy grits and these are the short ribs, that we kind of put on there. I braised the short ribs and I make this amazing like ju or sauce to kind of go over the top or gravy to go over the top little microgreens to go over the top.

That’s your second course of that meal, right? Yeah. So when I do dinner parties, there’s a three course menu. It’s a salad, entree, and dessert. Right here we got the, creamy grits, roasted rainbow [00:44:00] carrots and that bra, short ribs. Man, they look like they fall off the bone. Yeah, and it’s funny because the group.

 They wanted to pick up the short ribs. They eat with their hand. Mm. But they didn’t wanna do it on camera. . I told them, do you, you know, if you wanted to do that. No problem. So, yeah. Th these couples are real couples. These are people I’ve cooked for before. Mm-hmm. and oh, this one my wife likes, she liked this creme blue egg.

Yeah. This is a chocolate clee that I did here. Little raspberries and a men’s break. It’s one of my favorite desserts to make. I love clee. So this is the loft? This is the loft, yeah. Excellent.

I wanna thank you for coming on our program today, sir. Honor to be here. This is a wonderful day. Thank you, Ken. Oh, don’t thank you. Thank you. Now what we do in, all our shows, this camera right here, it belongs to you, chef. And you get to end the program by saying something to the camera. Make sure you tell people how they can get your book.

 We gonna leave everything in the, description as well of where you can get it. But Chef, you take your time, say whatever you like. The camera is yours. [00:45:00] I’m Chef Eric Wells. The name of my business is Skylar Rayes Culinary Services. We are a private chef company.

We’ve been in business going on 19 years. The website is www.skylarrayes.com. Phone number is (216) 254-2808. And again, we’ll be honored to serve you. I do require it though, if you do want a dinner for two, if you try to book it at least three to five months in advance, because I am very, very busy.

So, I do have a calendar on the website, that you can see my availability and also the book Cooking with Chef Wells Intimate. Dinners for two is available on Amazon. The book is 24 95, and if you see me around town, just stop me. I’ll sign the book for you, which I’ve done many a times.

And again, I’m just honored to be on this show and thank you for this opportunity. Ladies and gentlemen, chef Eric Wells and please check out any of the other shows we have on our website.

Talk to you next week.