Outside The Kitchen: Chef Beck Bolender Of North Salem's One Twenty One
Backstory on how he got started in the business, what he's up to now, and what his future plans are.
Beck Bolender has cooked mousselines and demi-glaces at Jean-Georges, and pâtés and rouilles at One Twenty One. His favorite dish? Waffles. “Breakfast starts the day; it’s a good feeling,” he says. That feeling has been with him since childhood. “I’d always make Sunday breakfasts.” A rare smile lights his stoic face. “For Christmas, I'd get a waffle iron instead of a toy.” Soon, there'll be lots of waffles and many toys: His first child, a son, is due this month.
Hopefully, he’ll still have time for breakfasts. It’ll be tough squeezing in feedings and diaper changes between supervising the One Twenty One kitchen and jaunts between JFK and Oxford, CT, airports, where, at 28 years of age, he manages a 5,000-meal-a-day catering operation for commercial and private jets. That stoic mien might be replaced by stress. But Bolender doesn't think so. “I'm calm and collected,” he assures. “I take things as they come.” That may be his nature, but nurture also played a part, with six years in the Jean-Georges kitchen after attending The Culinary Institute of America. “[Chef] Jean-Georges was like that: cool, and collected. The way he ran his kitchen made it seem easy and flawless. It was my culinary boot camp.
That may be, but his drills began much earlier. At 15, he was dishwashing in a North Salem deli, soon promoted to sandwich maker. By 18, he was manager. The owner, the chef who also owns One Twenty One, started the airline-catering gig out of the deli kitchen, and Bolender signed on. Today, that gig employs 200 in three kitchens of a 60,000 square foot JFK facility. Next year, it'll employ more: The operation is expanding to Washington, DC. Bolender will supervise it all, overseeing menu development and kitchens. “I’m a key member, making sure it all gets done,” he says coolly.
All this with a new baby? No one’s that cool. I press, and he finally admits to an outlet: motorcycles. Specifically, a Ducati, its exhaust bored out for maximum impact. “It's very loud,” he says, his ramrod posture melting into the chairback. “I like to scare people, have them jump off the sidewalk, see cars veer off to the side.” He’s grinning now. “It's fun.” I ask if it makes him feel powerful. “No, I just enjoy the interaction.” And then, “Yeah, I guess so. It's how I vent. But it's also very relaxing. There's no radio; no one's talking to you; you're in your own world, disconnected. It's an escape but an adrenaline rush at the same time.” His wild side is exposed, revving like the Ducati's engine. “I love swimming with sharks in the Bahamas. They’re a little scary, but I love the rush.”
So are there any wild goals for the future? “Maybe I'd buy a boat, own and run my own business. Something to do with wholesome food that I'd franchise.” A restaurant? “No,” he says firmly, “that’s a headache. Something in a fast environment that would do tons of volume, maybe a health snack. Could be something you’ve had before, I’d just make it better than anyone else’s. That's the only way I could see myself on a boat.”
Whichever ship he chooses, I'm betting it'll have a very large motor.