To understand Bobby, you have to start at the beginning, in the late 1970s, when he was a skinny teenager with dusty red hair hanging out with his buddies in New York City diners. He wasn’t a bad kid, exactly; he just didn’t like school. “The school would call my mom to say I hadn’t shown up, and she’d ask me what I’d been doing all day,” Bobby says. “I’d say, ‘Well, first we got breakfast. Then we went to the racetrack?’”
By senior year, when Bobby quit going to school altogether, his father volunteered him to fill in for a busboy at his business partner Joe Allen’s namesake restaurant. When the stint ended, the head chef asked Bobby if he wanted to work in the kitchen. He decided that he did. “Cooking was gratifying,” Bobby says. “I was creating something. At school, I got no results.”
Soon Bobby set his sights on a much bigger job. At the time, chef Jonathan Waxman’s groundbreaking Manhattan restaurants Jams and Bud’s were bringing a new kind of American cooking to the East Coast, one that involved seasonal ingredients, bold flavors and hefty California wines. Bobby wanted in. So one day, he visited Waxman and straight-up asked for a job.
“He was a skinny, freckled kid who must have weighed 95 pounds and looked like a dishwasher,” Waxman remembers. “But I really liked his chutzpah, so I hired him.”