By Camri Nelson
The Cincinnati Herald
Cooking has always been in his blood. His interest in pursuing a career in culinary arts began as a little kid. His mom who was a waitress for 18 years, and his father and grandmother, who he says were phenomenal cooks, were his biggest inspiration.
“Most people become great cooks from family recipes,” said Davis. “Watching them a lot is what helped.”
At the age of 14, Davis began his first job bussing tables at the Grand Finale restaurant in Glendale. Although he spent most of his time at the restaurant, he says it was well worth it.
“Instead of going out with my friends, I was making money, and, before the age of 16, I was able to buy two cars,” said Davis.
Throughout high school, Davis continued working in the food industry and after graduating college he went on to pursue a culinary arts degree at Johnson and Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts.
During his four years at JW Davis learned about a variety of different crafting skills, kitchen operation management, and business management. However, one thing he wish he would have learned in college was how restaurants were operated.
“Right now, kids are going through school and when they get into the restaurant business they are in dire shock,” said Davis. “They understand that they are going to spend $40,000 on a degree and only make $10 an hour.”
As Davis embarked on his career in 2006, he began working as a stewarding manager at Hilton Netherlands Hotel. For $9.45 an hour, he was responsible for washing the dishes and keeping the kitchen clean.
“It’s tough being a chef. You have to have a doggy dog personality,” he said. “It’s the next man up and you have to be ready to take the next person’s job that’s standing next to you.”
After only a few months as the stewarding manager he was promoted to a cook by Todd Kelly, chef of the AAA Diamond-rated restaurant Orchids at Palm Court. Kelly took Davis under his wing and began coaching him through his career.
Davis recalls Kelly explaining to him that anyone could cook, but knowing the business side of the field would set him apart from the rest. It wasn’t until he got further along in his career that he understood the importance of having management skills.
“Now, if there’s a tasting I can literally sit in the office up until an hour and then go upstairs, bang out the food, and you would have thought that I would have thought that I was prepping it for five hours,” explained Davis.
With both his cooking and management skills under his belt, Davis worked his way up the ladder at the Netherlands Hotel. Within seven years he went from stewarding chef to cook, to p.m. supervisor, to a.m. sous chef, and ultimately to banquet chef.
“Some cooks are cooks their whole life,” Davis said. “It’s about taking opportunity when you have an advancement and being ready when the door opens up.”
Determined to advance his career, Davis mastered his craft as the banquet chef and in 2012 applied for an executive banquet chef at Jack Casino in Cincinnati. Not long after he was offered the position and was on his way to success.
By 2015 Davis was promoted to his current position as executive chef. As the executive chef, he has various tasks such as fixing equipment, writing menus, creating schedules, writing new recipes, and developing new restaurants.
“We are constantly changing, evolving, and adapting,” he said. “There is always an ongoing project that needs to be done.”
Although throughout the day he is constantly busy, he said the favorite part of his job is coaching and inspiring his team of cooks.
“Chef Gary is big on developing people,” said Gayane Makaryan, the communications manager at Jack Casino. “He doesn’t just say here’s a job to do, but here’s how we are going to make it better.”
Davis admits that even though he enjoys his job, it can be challenging when trying to maintain a social life outside of his busy work schedule. “You miss out on a lot being an executive chef of a casino that’s open 24 hours, seven days a week, and always has something going on,” he said.
When he does have free time, he enjoys spending it with his wife and two daughters. Besides family, he also enjoys competing in various competitions, such as the Guys Grocery Games on Food Network. He has won the American Culinary Federation Chef of the Year Award, the Food Fight Award, the Battle Taco award, and a golden ticket to the World Food Championships.
Within the next few years, Davis hopes to publish a book, become a cooking instructor, host his own cooking show, and, most importantly, continue to strive for greatness at the casino.
“There are a lot of great chefs and restaurants in this city, and I want to make sure that Jack Casino and our restaurants are something that people are talking about,” he said.