ICE Alum and Chef Matthew Tran stands in front of Otium

Life of an ICE Alum at Otium, One of Los Angeles' Hottest Restaurants

Working behind the restaurant line is a vibrant atmosphere of dance, chaos and precision. It’s where the unsung heroes of the kitchen are responsible for prepping, cooking and plating dishes and making sure everything is absolutely perfect.

Chef Matthew Tran, an ICE Los Angeles Culinary Arts alum, got his first big glimpse of climbing the culinary ladder at Otium, Chef Timothy Hollingsworth’s bustling restaurant in Downtown LA.

ICE LA Alum Matthew Tran at Otium.

Prior to attending ICE, Chef Matthew was studying to become a mechanical engineer. It wasn't long into his program when he discovered where his true passion lies —  in making food. However, the accuracy and precision he learned during his engineering studies stayed with him.

His hard work, rigor and willingness to grow catapulted him across three stations at Otium within one year. First at the raw bar, which included fresh seafood dishes, salads and cold appetizers, and then on to the garde manger station, which involves prepping and plating hot appetizers. He's currently working at the wood oven, where he skillfully crafts all of the wood-fired main and side dishes.

Chef Matthew's experience at Otium has far surpassed the repetitive line cook work he was anticipating when he started his professional career.

Hear from Otium's owner: The Hollingsworth Way

What Is It Like Working at Otium?

"I thought I'd be doing the same few things over and over again like any other normal kitchen job, but it's definitely so much better than I expected. There are always new and interesting things to learn every day at Otium, if not by the chefs, then by your mistakes.”

As one can imagine, the day in the life of a line cook at a trendy, bustling kitchen starts early and ends late.

“I come in at 1 p.m. and start prepping for service until 5 p.m., then we begin the service rush,” Chef Matthew says.

In addition to his routine prep for service, Chef Matthew has also been in charge of preparing the daily salad dish for family meal at 3 p.m., which has polished his knife skills even further. Before he knew it, he was on the express train, getting his prep done in half the time, leaving room for more learning in other areas of the kitchen. 

Chef Matthew's biggest takeaway from the Institute of Culinary Education is to always work clean and organized, a skill that was fundamental for him as he entered Otium’s open kitchen concept, which demands polished surfaces and cleanliness at all times. His accuracy, organization, speed and precision at the raw bar and garde manger stations anchored him for a promotion to the wood oven.

What advice does he have for new young cooks who are interested in working behind the line?

Aside from being clean and organized, Chef Matthew's main piece of advice is about attitude.

“Be humble when being taught something, because you will never know everything in this industry," he says. "There will always be multiple ways to get to the same place. Take what you learn from others and figure out what works for you...Make sure you are passionate about what you are doing. Passion goes a long way in motivating yourself to learn, do better and, most importantly, stay happy.”

More Alumni Stories: ICE Alumna Jessica Alferos on Year One at Spago

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