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Marcus Isn’t Afraid to Turn Up the Heat

October 29, 2020 | Common Ground | 0 Comments

If we love ourselves it’s so much easier to love
others
because we’re grounded.”


Originally from Edison NJ, Marcus came to NYC because he loves working in restaurants, and what better place to be? While he plans to open his own restaurant one day, when asked what success looked like to him Marcus replied, “Can I meet a stranger and within an hour and a half elicit a handshake a high-5 or a hug; that is like the most powerful thing in the world to me.” After the interview, without a thought, I gave Marcus a big hug and told him he had an open invite to come for dinner. Success.


 

What drives me? Community. Food. Drink.

Food is one of those universal languages that brings people together and I find a lot of joy introducing people to this world that I’m super passionate about.  I’ve been working in restaurants for 15 years now – went to culinary school to learn the fundamentals of creating something tangible from scratch, and a respect for doing something the right way.  There’s an artistry in that.

This is my livelihood, but it’s also about creativity and imagination.  It’s literally like playing in a park with booze and great food and happy people that show respect for the game.  Why else are you here? Because you’re hungry and you want to be happy.  That’s what I got from working in 3-star Michelin restaurants.  People come in with an expectation that tonight could be the best night of their life, and I think everyone deserves that feeling.

This simple little act had the most impact on my life.

Reflecting back, my formative childhood memory is going out to dinner with my parents – to Red Lobster. I remember eating a shrimp feast with my dad, having a giant-ass virgin strawberry daiquiri and feeling like the most special person in the world. That resonates so powerfully with me – that feeling of love, that someone’s there to care for you in a very thoughtful way. One of my mentors at 11 Madison, Will Guadara, said emotion is power…it’s like fire, you just have to learn how to control that heat. For me, I’m not afraid of turning up the heat to play for a little bit.

This was never the life I was supposed to live.

I went to a great college, but I’d sit there in business school and I didn’t feel joy. I felt empty. So I dropped out, came back home and started working in restaurants; very humble beginnings, TGI Fridays in Piscataway, NJ! For a long time my parents were like ‘alright, at least you’re doing something.’ It wasn’t until years later, working at 11 Madison Park in NYC, when I told them how much the way they view food and hospitality there had really changed my life, that they came to the restaurant and they got it. My parents were like, it doesn’t matter what we want, he’s happy and he found something that’s beautiful. Before it was, ‘how’s the restaurant,’ and it became ‘how is this impacting your life’ and ‘where do you want to go next’ and ‘what do you want to explore?’ It was just so rewarding for my parents to come through.

The thing that makes me happiest is bringing people together.

Human interaction is something people are losing touch with and I’m trying to bring it back. I want friends, I don’t want followers. The power of body language, the energy, the synergy…those things just can’t be replicated over email, text or even a phone call. That’s what serving’s all about, making that first impression, building that connection real fast, making a judgement and acting on it. There’s subtlety to that, that’s our craft.

I try to be really mindful.

Meditation to me is exercise for your mind and when I’m constantly moving, thinking and talking to people, it requires a certain mental alacrity to just be present. That’s really important to me, to be in the moment for each and every person, to find that sense of balance and harmony. It keeps me grounded. Feeling balanced isn’t just something that happens, you have to put time and effort into it.

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Laine Valentino

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