Insight on elite club chef: Jameal Allice

By Martha Eliades

Sous chef Jameal Allice prepares plates of food in a restaurant kitchen.
Jameal Allice learned to cook at home
in North Philadelphia.
He now cooks at Merion Golf Club,
home to five U.S. Opens.
Photo credit: Deisy A. Tito 

At Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, the chefs maintain a high-quality selection of food and experiment on several cuisines. The sous chef at this private restaurant has been working here for about three years and has “climbed up the culinary ladder faster than expected.” Growing up in North Philadelphia, Jameal Allice has worked many odd jobs, adopting countless skills that eventually led him to his present job. A few of his past jobs include being a paperboy, landscaping, engineering floors, or working in the kitchen. He’s always been busy. However, he pursued his passion for food ever since he was a kid.

When did you start cooking? 

I’ve been in the kitchen since I was seven. At my house, everyone was always in the kitchen hanging out. I was curious. Everyone was making all this food, and I wanted to see how they made it. 

I’ve been cooking my whole life. One of my first memories was my grandmother, in the dead of winter, barbecuing chicken in two feet of snow. 

Did you see yourself becoming a chef when you were younger?

Totally. Being a master chef was something I strove to become.

What’s a nostalgic dish of yours? 

Spaghetti. My mama’s spaghetti. I’d open the refrigerator, there would always be this stainless-steel pot filled with spaghetti, with little bit of onions, zucchini, tomatoes. It was so good. I would often visit the fridge in the middle of the night and sneak some spaghetti. 

Why do you cook? 

I cook because I like feeding people. I love seeing the excitement on people’s faces once they’ve tried my food. It makes their day. 

I remember back when I worked in the kitchen at a banquet hall, one day I made penne alla vodka for a wedding. The bride came in, risking tomato sauce on her dress, asked for the chef. She demanded the recipe. 

Do you ever feel pressured when cooking for others?

No, that died a long time ago. Creating dishes is an expression of oneself. Your feelings will come out in your dish. If I’m happy, my dish will reflect that. If I’’m sad, same thing. However, since I’ve grown aware of this, I’ve learned how to temporarily shield my feelings when making food. 

Do you ever view cooking as a chore? 

Absolutely. Every time I have to cook for myself. If I was cooking for someone, it would be different, I’d get up and cook for them. Sometimes it’s hard to cook for myself because I do it all the time. It’s different by myself. I don’t know why, it just is. 

What’s the toughest part about working in the culinary industry? 

The ridiculous hours that fluctuate constantly. You can work a one-hour shift one day, and a six-hour shift the next day. At Parkside Banquet Hall, I once worked for 36 hours straight. I stayed there for a few days without even going home. 

What is a popular misconception about the culinary industry?

I think it’s that the customer’s always right. I’ve seen people send back food because they think there’s garlic in the dish but I’m telling you there’s no garlic!

This is your third year at Merion Golf Club. If you could go back to change anything since you started working there, would you?

Yeah, one thing I wish I had done differently was work faster. At Merion, the rate at which I climbed was unexpected. If I had known I was able to do that, I would’ve pushed myself to work even faster. With every job I get, I like to work my way up to the top. 

What is some advice you’d give someone wishing to work in the culinary field? 

Good luck. Filled with long hours and hard work.

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