Graham was born in Seattle, Washington to a Navy family. Moving was a part of life and they traveled constantly, relocating from the Philippines to Hawaii, and from California to Maryland. Growing up a "Navy brat" allowed Graham the opportunity to see the world and all fifty states during his young life, opening his eyes and mouth to amazing flavors from around the globe. His parents were also into food, often cooking native dishes from whatever country they were living in. Graham himself began helping at a young age, making the cranberry sauce each year for Thanksgiving.
An early music lover, Graham bought his first album at the age of seven. His passion for music developed quickly, and soon he was playing guitar and dreaming of life as a musician. With a desire to get the most out of life, Graham made the risky decision to drop out of high school at age sixteen. Living in Virginia, he found work in the food industry as a dishwasher and bus boy. The head chef was a culinary graduate from Johnson and Wales University, and he encouraged Graham to go there if he wanted to pursue a career in food.
Graham was dividing his time between playing guitar and singing while working at the restaurant. Eventually, he faced the question that had been in the back of his mind for some time: Did he want to be a cook, or did he want to be in a band? Searching his soul, Graham admitted to himself that food was just as creative, emotional, thought provoking, and romantic as music. With that, his decision was made, and he enrolled at Johnson and Wales.
Graham graduated from the culinary program at the age of eighteen. He wasn't tied to a particular style of cuisine, like French of Mediterranean, but was driven and ready to make his mark. He started as a cook at a five-star property near Dallas, Texas. It was his first experience in fine dining, and it was a twenty-four hour operation. Graham quickly came to appreciate the level of detail required when a place is always working, as opposed to a traditional dinner-only restaurant. He also learned many of the ins and outs of top-tier cooking: to keep his head down, his towel perfectly folded, and his trash can close by.
Venturing to Vermont, Graham joined the kitchen of a New England inn and restaurant, where he came to understand the value of regional ingredients and local culinary history. His next move took him to Chicago, where he learned what it meant to work at the highest level of culinary professionalism. Each task was just as important as every other, from how pans were seasoned and knives were sharpened to how the floor was swept. Graham had never been in such a kitchen, where everything was so in tune, and it made an impression. During this time, he also began earning recognition in the form of award nominations and high profile reviews in major food publications.
When Graham decided to apply all his experience into the creation of a restaurant, he was very clear about what he wanted. He could hold his own at the most demanding level of the industry, but in his heart, he was still a rock musician and liked doing things differently than everyone else. Graham's first restaurant was a perfect reflection of his feelings about cooking: that it's personal, spontaneous, and should always reflect the style and individuality of the cook. His kitchen was characterized by constant laughter, relaxed professionalism, and pop-music debates. From foie gras lollipops to apple-cheddar risotto topped with Cheez-It crackers, the menu was Graham on a plate.
At 27, Chef Graham Elliot became the youngest Four Star Chef ever to earn that honor. He owns three critically acclaimed restaurants in Chicago, has served multiple times as the Culinary Ambassador at the Lollapalooza music festival (where he cooks for both the public and the performers), and is one of co-stars of the hit TV cooking competition Master Chef.
When asked to share advice for the next generation of dreamers, Graham suggests, "Don't try and please others by being someone you're not. Be authentic. Be yourself. Stop trying to live someone else's dream and start living your own."
Until next week...