FAIRFIELD, Conn. — When Richard Herzfeld was just 10, his uncle began teaching him how to cook.
It didn’t hurt that his uncle was Juan Metzger, president of Dannon Co., a man who had learned his way around the kitchen from James Beard, an icon the New York Times once dubbed the “dean of American cookery.”
Within two years, the pre-teen, who would go on to open Fairfield’s popular eatery Chef’s Table, was catering parties for his parents and their friends. By the time he was in 10th grade, a family friend had already secured him a coveted spot at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) after his graduation, something unheard of for someone with no professional experience.
“So I knew where I was going after high school in 10th grade,” he said. “It was nice to know.”
Herzfeld shared his rise from teen caterer to restaurant entrepreneur with a rapt audience Monday as part of the Fairfield Public Library’s What’s Cooking” series, which highlights local chefs, foodies, restaurants and authors.
While at CIA, Herzfeld, a White Plains native who lived in Westport for years, developed a love of baking, something he and a business partner turned into a successful wholesale bakery in Norwalk. He loved the work, but knew the grueling schedule couldn’t last forever.
“I worked nights for 10 years and it was just too much,” said the Fairfield resident.
By 1995, he had opened his first Chef’s Table in Westport, serving up the signature sandwiches and hearty soups that have made the business such a success. Soon he had a second Westport location and opened a third on the Post Road in Fairfield.
Herzfeld said Sept. 11 and the recession of 2007 hit both Westport businesses hard, with catering jobs drying up. He decided to turn his full attention to the Fairfield shop, a funky space filled with concert posters and album covers that often features live music.
This year, Herzfeld will be on the move again: Due to competitive rent and compromised parking, he’s moving Chef’s Table just down the street to 1140 Post Road, a space now filled with a skateboard shop and a spa. He plans to expand his menu to include more breakfast offerings and more of the semolina and whole wheat breads, bagels and doughnuts he enjoys making.
“That’s the nice part about being the boss,” he said. “I make what I want to make when I want to make it!”
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