Erik Desjarlais

Erik Desjarlais

Erik Desjarlais, Owner and Seamster at Weft & Warp, specializing in handmade knife rolls, aprons, leather bags and wallets in Portland, ME, shares his career timeline and advice for up-and-coming talent.

When I quit cooking professionally, I realized I didn't know anything else but cooking and hospitality. I had been an apprentice upholsterer and then recognized that most of my cooking career was based on the simple lessons my grandfather taught me about the pursuit of perfection and knowing that you can only try for excellence. Nothing is perfect, but those who strive for excellence come awfully close.

I've learned to be more accepting of other people's opinions. Not necessarily about sewing, leather working or cooking, but life in general. Mentors and teachers are everywhere. It sounds like cliche Zen babble, but it's true. I worked with a porter named Edgar. He was from Ecuador and had 10 kids back home. Every dime he made went home. He lived in a room below the restaurant and the owners would feed him three meals a day. His room consisted of a bed, a yoga mat, a bathroom and a few photos. And his wardrobe was houndstooth check pants and white shirts. All meticulously folded, everything was square and tight. He would get this really strong homemade liquor sent to him every month, I had no idea what it was, but it burned. He'd have a sip after a 15 hour shift and do yoga then bed. Then wake up, yoga, a walk, then another 15 hour day, 7 days a week. The guy was a machine, and he always said "Keep it simple." That was a great life lesson.

I had a horse tartare in France that changed my life as a cook. That dish, among about a dozen others I have eaten in my life, is what I look to for perfection or excellence.

I've had many mentors, mostly my father. I've learned a ton from porters and plongeurs, practical stuff. I guess my own self-antagonistic side has been my best mentor. Hopefully I will come across in the future as a mentor.

My wife Krista and our daughter Cortland keep me motivated during tough times related to work.

If I could give myself advice earlier in my career I'd say, try to get paid more. And don't use so much caviar.

It's been used over and over again, but it's true. Everything is a learning process. My first bags were terrible now that I look back on them. I get better every day because I can figure shit out and I'm ok with making mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, but it's what you do with the outcome that matters. Most chefs know this, and it's like beating a dead horse, but true.

I treated my entire career as a learning cook phase. Life has been my internship. A goulash soup and chocolate crepe at a no-name restaurant in Budapest was a turning point. The truffled whole chicken at L'Oiseau and the tasting menu at Girardet, when I was young, were both important. I saw the chefs de partie and commis in the kitchen after service at Girardet (near Lausanne, Switzerland), all banged up but still soigne. Frédy [Chef Giradet] took me on a little tour of the kitchen. That had an impact. I said, "I want that".

Always roll your apron, always fold your towels and always cut the painters tape with scissors. Don't rip it. And try not to fuck up. Also, never hammer upwards.

Bob Kramer is a bladesmith out of Washington state. He's a brilliant craftsman and artist. I ordered my first Kramer custom in 1997 or so, and received it about a year later. His wait list was long back then, and now his handmade knives are almost unobtainable. I ordered 6 others over the course of a decade and the wait became longer and longer. He's a prime example of the relentless pursuit of excellence and it is evident in his work. Any time I run in to an obstacle I always ask myself "What would Bob do?"

There are a handful of bladesmiths these days who are putting out some amazing kitchen knives and I look at their stuff and I'm just amazed. Their work has to be precise otherwise the knives wouldn't work. Sharpening and honing knives are skills that any chef should have and I think that the process is a great exercise for anyone who likes to meditate on a procedure.

Send Us Your Nominations

If you know of any extraordinary food, beverage and hospitality professionals who inspire others through their hard work and leadership, nominate them now!


Join the network and create your free profile
Search industry jobs here

Inspirational Career Timelines

Find your inspiration in the unique career timelines and words of advice these industry leaders have shared.

Tessa Thompson
Career Services Advisor
Institute of Culinary Education

Philippe Bertineau
Executive Chef
Benoit New York

Josh Henderson
Chef and Founder
Huxley Wallace Collective

Carmen Quagliata
Executive Chef
Union Square Cafe and Daily Provisions

Morgan Schick
Creative Director
The Bon Vivants and Trick Dog

Joanne Chang
Chef and Co-Owner
Flour Bakery & Café and Myers+Chang

Travis Swikard
Culinary Director
Bar Boulud, Boulud Sud, Epicerie Boulud

Dustin Wilson
Master Sommelier and Co-Founder
Verve Wine

Charlotte Voisey
Director of Brand Advocacy
William Grant & Sons USA

Eric Railsback
Partner and Wine Director
Mason Pacific

Sarah Simmons
Chef and Owner
CITY GRIT Hospitality Group, CITY GRIT, Birds & Bubbles, Rise Gourmet Goods & Bakeshop

Chris Cosentino
Chef and Owner
Cockscomb and Acacia House

Matt Alba
Chef de Cuisine
Ad Hoc

Scott Baird
The Bon Vivants

Aggie Chin
Executive Pastry Chef
Rosewood Washington, D.C.

Robert Andreozzi
former Chef de Cuisine
Pizzeria Locale

Benjamin Murray
Chef de Cuisine
Azul at Mandarin Oriental

Adam Nadel
Executive Chef
Casa Apicii

Grant Achatz
Chef and Owner
The Alinea Group

Shelley Lindgren
Co-Owner and Wine Director
A16 and SPQR

Brandon Malzahn
Corporate Pastry Chef
Fabio Trabocchi Restaurants

Michael Paley
Executive Chef
Café No Sé and Central Standard

Dan Snowden
Executive Chef
Bad Hunter

Yehuda Sichel
Executive Chef
Abe Fisher

Josh Harris
The Bon Vivants

Peter Hoglund
Director of Operations and Partner
Frasca Food and Wine

Rhonda Crosson
Head Baker

Christie Dufault
Wine Instructor and Beverage Instructor
Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

Dan Kluger
Chef and Owner
Loring Place

Daniel Rose
Executive Chef and Partner
Le Coucou

Simon King
General Manager
The Modern

Alex Seidel
Executive Chef, Proprietor and Farmer
Mercantile dining & provision, Fruition Restaurant and Fruition Farms Dairy & Creamery

Wendy Kallergis
President and CEO
Greater Miami Beaches and Hotel Association

Michael Anthony
Executive Chef / Partner
Gramercy Tavern & Untitled

Edouardo Jordan
Executive Chef and Owner
Salare Restaurant

Anthony Strong
Executive Chef
Delfina Group

Laurent Gras
Owner and Chef
LGRAS Consulting

Barbara Lynch
Chef and Owner
Barbara Lynch Gruppo

Angela Neri
General Manager
Alfred's Steakhouse

Shawn Cirkiel
Executive Chef and Owner
Parkside Projects

Jennifer Carroll
Executive Chef and Partner

Cynthia Billeaud
VP of Operations & Human Resources
Mina Group

Gunnar Karl Gíslason
Executive Chef
Agern Restaurant

Alessandra Altieri
Director of Bouchon Bakery
Thomas Keller Restaurant Group

James Briscione
Director of Culinary Development
The Institute of Culinary Education

Jean François Bruel
Executive Chef

Aniedra Nichols
Chef and Managing Partner
Fish N Beer

Tavel Bristol-Joseph
Pastry Chef / Partner
Emmer & Rye

Amanda Cohen
Dirt Candy

Nick Anderer
Executive Chef/Partner
Maialino and Marta

Charlie Parker
Executive Chef

Jamie Bissonnette
Chef / Partner
Toro & Coppa

Vilma Mazaite

Roxanne Spruance
Executive Chef and Owner

Gary Obligacion
Director of Operations
The Alinea Group

Diane Yang
Executive Pastry Chef
Spoon and Stable

Matthew McClure
Executive Chef
The Hive

Jeremy Sewall
Chef / Partner
Lineage Restaurant, Island Creek Oyster Bar, Row 34 Fort Point, Row 34 Portsmouth

Jonathan Deutsch
Professor of Culinary Arts and Food Science
Drexel University, Center for Hospitality and Sport Management

Katie Bell
General Manager
Agern Restaurant

Anita Lo
Executive Chef / Owner

Bryan Dayton
Proprietor/Beverage Director
Oak at Fourteenth and Acorn

Chris Flint
Chef de Cuisine
Eleven Madison Park

Monica Glass
Corporate Pastry Chef
Starr Catering Group

Daniel Toral
Wine Director
50 Eggs Inc.

Eddy Leroux
Chef de Cuisine

Anthony Chittum
Executive Chef / Partner
Iron Gate Restaurant

Kevin Fink
Emmer & Rye

Kim Floresca
Co-Executive Chef
[ONE] Restaurant

Timothy Hollingsworth
Owner / Chef
Otium and Barrel & Ashes

John Ragan
Master Sommelier, Director of Wine and Restaurant Operations
Union Square Hospitality Group

Aaron Bludorn
Executive Chef
Café Boulud

Joseph Yardley
Chef de Cuisine
Agern Restaurant

Eric Korsh
Executive Chef
North End Grill

James Kent
Executive Chef
The NoMad

Chung Chow
Chef de Cuisine / Co-Owner

Vivian Howard
Chef and Student
Chef & The Farmer

Fabio Trabocchi
Chef / Owner
Gruppo FT

Eric Rivera
Former Director of Operations
Huxley Wallace Collective

Mike Solomonov
Chef / Partner
Cook N Solo Restaurants

Jeff Benjamin
Chief Operating Officer
Vetri Family

Anthony Rudolf

Floyd Cardoz
Executive Chef and Partner

Michaël Engelmann
Master Sommelier, Wine Director
The Modern

Gavin Kaysen
Executive Chef / Owner
Spoon and Stable

Jonathan Black
Chef de Cuisine

Pascaline Lepeltier
Master Sommelier, Beverage Director
Rouge Tomate

Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson
Executive Chef/Owner
Frasca Food and Wine

Ghaya Oliveira
Executive Pastry Chef

Bobby Stuckey
Master Sommelier, Wine Director / Owner
Frasca Food and Wine

Erik Desjarlais
Designer, Seamster & Leatherworker
Weft & Warp

Abram Bissell
Executive Chef
The Modern

Johnny Iuzzini
Executive Pastry Chef and Owner
Sugar Fueled Inc

DLynn Proctor
Winemaking Ambassador
Penfolds, Americas

Carlton McCoy
Master Sommelier, Wine Director
The Little Nell

Pierre Siue
General Manager

Sabato Sagaria
Master Sommelier, Chief Restaurant Officer
Union Square Hospitality Group

Melissa Walnock
Lecturing Instructor / Pastry Chef
The Culinary Institute of America

Jeffrey Porter
Beverage Director
Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group

AJ Schaller
Former Executive Chef
Corkbuzz Wine Studio

Jason Franey
Executive Chef
Restaurant 1833

Nelson Daquip
Wine and Spirits Director
Canlis Restaurant

Jason Neve
Culinary Director
B&B Hospitality Group

Joe Campanale
Former Executive Beverage Director/Co-Founder
Epicurean Management Company

Erling Wu-Bower
Chef de Cuisine
Nico Osteria

Sylva Senat
Former Executive Chef
Tashan Restaurant

Raj Vaidya
Head Sommelier

Cesar Gutierrez
Executive Sous Chef

Chris Baggetta
Director of Prestige Accounts
Pacific Wine and Spirits

Nadine Donovan
Executive Pastry Chef
Old Major

Kevin Doherty
Executive Chef
Delaware North Companies Sportservice at TD Garden

Graceanne Jordan
Former Director of Operations
Craft Restaurant Group

Jeff Katz
General manager
Del Posto and La Sirena

Donald Madia
Owner and Partner
One Off Hospitality Group

Alex Wolf
Director of Restaurants
Restaurants by Jean-Georges

Norman Van Aken
Executive Chef and Owner

Matthew Ridgway
Executive Chef
The Southern Gentleman and Gypsy Kitchen