Clayton Sherrod related his story of working his up from kitchen worker at age 13 to executive chef at age 19—a position he gained after being told by the General Manager to take care of the kitchen “until we find another chef.”
National Public Radio (NPR) recently featured an interview with Clayton Sherrod, an African-American who related the story of how he became the executive chef at an all-white club in Birmingham, Ala. at the age of 19 in 1964.
The club was not named in the interview, but Sherrod, who now runs his own catering business, told the website AL.com, in a followup report on the interview, that his employment was at Vestavia Country Club.
In the interview on NPR’s “StoryCorps” program, Sherrod said he started working in the kitchen at the club when he was 13 years old, after his father had a heart attack.
“My mother said, ‘You can’t go back to school. You’re going to have to find a job.’ So I went to the country club,” Sherrod recalled.
Sherrod related that his friends “thought he was crazy when he decided he would become a chef. But I saw something that no one else could see—and that is me walking around with that big tall hat on.
“So I counted how many positions it was from washing dishes to the executive chef, and I had my chart pinned to the wall in our little outdoor bathroom there, and I would mark every time I got a promotion,” Sherrod said. “And then I would turn the light off, and I would dance.”
It took six years to work his way up to sous-chef, Sherrod said, and he admitted that he had to be a little sneaky to take the final step to Executive Chef. But when that position opened up, the club’s general manager turned to him and asked him to take care of the kitchen “until we find another chef.”
“That’s all I needed,” said Sherrod, who ran the club’s kitchen for the next 13 years. “I never even looked back.”
Sherrod who also serves on the Board of Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virginia College, in addition to running Chef Clayton’s Food Systems, Inc., told AL.com that he received many phone calls, text messages and e-mails since the “StoryCorps” piece aired.
To listen to the full radio interview, go to: