We had the good fortune of connecting with Amber Sullivan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Amber, what role has risk played in your life or career?
My view on taking risks has evolved over the years. As I grew, I naturally took more risks and quickly realized that outside the comfort zone is where all of the personal growth (& fun) happens. I moved from Dallas, Texas to Los Angeles after college with very little money and no job lined up. I knew it would take some time to get acclimated and comfortable in this big new city but I also knew that it was exactly where I was supposed to be. That’s the thing about taking risks, they kind of force you to trust your gut, your intuition, & yourself. The first year I lived here I was working as a Teacher. Eight months later I had completely transitioned into a new career… working to become a chef. I didn’t go culinary school so this felt like a HUGE risk. It’s now almost five years later and I can confidently say that it was the best decision I’ve ever made. Taking that risk propelled me into a career that’s aligned with my passion and feeds my competitive & creative traits. It’s just as they say, you gotta risk it for the biscuit… and I love biscuits.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
When I create a dish… I am coming from a few different places. One is finding balance. Balancing sweet, salt, acid, fat, heat, tang, umami, hot, cold & adding texture. Another is the type of ingredients I use. I try to buy local, from farmers markets or local vendors. Seasonality also plays a huge part, I love leaning into what’s in season (especially with California produce!) and making those ingredients shine. One of the biggest elements that goes into my thought process of creating is the inspiration behind it. Whether that’s from another chef or cook I’ve learned from, a restaurant I’ve recently tried, a culture or region of food that brings me joy or ignites curiosity, a dish from my childhood that’s nostalgic and brings comfort, or literally just browsing food porn on instagram and decidedly making whatever I want. Sometimes it’s just one of those or all of them tied together. Cooking, to me, is always from the heart and being inspired. I’d say what sets me apart is that, ironically, since I didn’t go to culinary school, I was very easy to mold. I was extremely open to any and all explanations of things and since I didn’t know a damn thing… I soaked in everything like a sponge. This assisted me in being able to cook like ‘there are no rules’ and allowed me to learn from my mistakes and grow pretty fast in the kitchen. I’m also insanely competitive. I felt like I got a late start on my career path so I did whatever I could in my power to propel myself forward. I’m most proud of myself for my perserverance and not giving up, even on the days where I felt the most discouraged. There’s something called ‘imposter syndrome’ and often times I would find myself feeling like that, like I didn’t belong, but I continued working through those emotions by cooking for loved ones to remind myself that I have a purpose. This was a very hard journey. I endured A LOT of physical abuse (cuts, burns, back and feet pain), some emotional distress, being a woman in the kitchen, dealing with unnecessary and inappropriate comments from male colleagues and even some bosses. The lesson I took away from those moments is that I could do anything I put my mind and my heart to. I cared more about living for my passion and future than I did about the temporary moments where my talent was questioned and my drive was tested. I would like for the world to know, it’s never too late to do what you love. And as far as my brand and cooking goes, there are no rules, don’t be afraid to look like an idiot 😉 Trust yourself, listen to your palette and magical things will happen. By Hand, became the name of my brand for the sole purpose of encouraging people to make things by their own hands. Not mine. Not your neighborhood grocery store, but by your hands. It offers an insane amount of ownership and love that nothing else can give you. Then allows you to share that creation and love with those around you.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Ooooh! The places we will go! Well, if it wasn’t clear already, I’m obsessed with food. So let’s start with brunch at République. I’ll get the ricotta toast and then pray the rest of my company will order the smoked salmon Benedict, shakshouka, and too many pastries and mimosas to be shared between all of us. If we are feeling wild we will get the kimchi fried rice for the table. We’ll head over to the east side, stop and grab a few bottles of natural wine from Silver Lake Wine, and go hang at Echo Park lake. Enjoy good conversation and people watching, buy goodies from a few street vendors and soak in the sweet aromas of fresh churros being made down the way. From there we might Uber or find a walkable place to catch the sunset from the hills. Given current times, a lot of my favorite places are take-out only, so we’d place a dinner order to pick-up with All Time, head back to my place in Silver Lake, set up a picnic in the backyard, turn on some tunes and drink the rest of our wine. Again, if we are feeling crazy we will light the fire and make s’mores. (..I’m often feeling crazy) We’d spend a day over on the west side, argue over us getting donuts from Sidecar or grabbing a breakfast burrito and cold brew from Dogtown Coffee in Santa Monica. Do some shopping around Santa Monica Place and Third Street Promenade ( if it’s a Saturday we are hitting the farmers market to grab some fresh citrus and snacks :)) Grab drinks over at Ashland Hill then pick up Bay Cities sandwiches (The Godfather, of course) and head to the beach to eat and hang out. We would then head up to the rooftop at Hotel Shangri La and get a bottle of wine while watching the sun set over the ocean. We could finish the evening with some ice cream at Sweet rose creamery with the satisfying feeling that we may not be able to fit into our jeans anymore. You get the idea of my food tour of Los Angeles, but other places that I would make sure to include would be visiting LACMA or the Getty Museum. Spending time walking around the city, visiting Grand Central Market downtown…getting tacos from Leo’s food truck.. Hiking up to Griffith Park Observatory or Runyon Canyon to work off all the food we ate. Seeing a live concert at The Hollywood Bowl or the Greek Theatre. Playing pool and games and drinking brews at Barney’s Beanery or Barcadia. Late night dancing and drinks at Club Tee Gee or Good Times at Davey Wayne’s. Shopping at Melrose Trading Post or Silver Lake Flea market. THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Oh man. This list could go on for days. Firstly, my family and friends. My mom, bless her heart, helping me both mentally and financially while I first started working making minimum wage as a cook. My best friends, who have cheered me on, lifted me up on hard days and supported me my entire journey. To name a few, my friends Taylor, Kelsey, Ben and Max. Whether it was me testing new recipes for them and having them judge me like on Chopped, me making a total mess of our kitchen, asking them to come by the restaurant or my pop-ups to try my food, they’ve always showed up for me and I can’t thank them enough for that. My friend and partner-in-crime in the kitchen, Dafne. She’s been by my side since the early days learning the ropes of the kitchen. She’s played a huge part in guiding me, rooting for me, and trusting me with developing my first menu for our last restaurant we worked in together. My first chef, Dakota Weiss. She took a chance on me. I showed up to my interview in teacher clothes, ha ha. I had no idea what I was signing up for. She was an amazing example to me of what it meant to be a strong, creative, successful chef in the kitchen. There’s too many cookbooks to name, but huge shoutout to all of the chefs out there sharing your recipes, techniques and love for food. Lastly, Anthony Bourdain. “I’m not afraid to look like an idiot.” Those very words got me through my first years in the kitchen and I still live by them.
Instagram: amberrgram /// Eatbyhand