“If you need help, work harder." This is what Lance Thomas remembers a chef mentor telling him one night six years ago, when they were both in the weeds, cooking slang for being slammed in a busy restaurant kitchen. It’s a piece of advice that has helped Thomas, now 25, get through both the good times and the bad times — including being homeless.
Thomas has worked in the restaurant industry since he was 15, when he landed a job as a fry cook at a Wendy’s in Alhambra. “I knew then that I was going to cook for the rest of my life,” Thomas says now. “I would even ditch school to work because I loved it so much.”
Easygoing and quick to joke, his bleach-tipped black hair often tucked into a trim cap, Thomas grew up first with his grandmother in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, then with his aunt in the San Gabriel Valley — but always with the Food Network. (Favorite: Giada De Laurentiis.)
Including that initial job at Wendy’s, Thomas estimates that he’s worked in 25 kitchens in and around Los Angeles in the last decade, including stints at Clifton’s, Little Sister, Cook’s County and Bottega Louie. It’s a turnover that’s not unusual for those who make up the unglamorous back-of-house side of restaurants, where even a 25-cent difference in hourly rate is enough to leave one job for another.