YOUNGSTOWN – “People think my job is just cooking,” says Trávon Eley. “It’s not.”
Eley is the kitchen manager of Bistro 1907 in downtown Youngstown. He’s also a graduate of the culinary arts program at Mahoning County Career and Technical Center.
The 21-year-old has been working at Bistro 1907 since the day it opened in 2017, beginning on the salad station and working his way up.
To be sure, cooking is involved with Eley’s position. He typically expedites orders between the staff of waiters and the kitchen during the dinner rush but also jumps on the grill station as needed.
But there is much more to his job. “Numbers are important,” he says, ticking off his duties. “There’s food ordering, food costs, setting menu prices, scheduling employees, making sure people get the right amount of hours. If there is any dead time, we do cleaning or train someone on another station.”
Mark Canzonetta, the chef-owner of Bistro 1907, saw the potential in Eley when he hired him. “He is a great kid,” Canzonetta says. “One of my No. 1s. He is my No. 1 of the non-management staff. I am grooming him to be me later in life.”
Canzonetta praised Eley for his maturity – and his proficiency with social media.
Eley learned his craft from Matthew Putzier, a culinary instructor at MCCTC who helped him get his career started.
The Lake Club in Poland contacted Putzier for cook recommendations several years ago, which resulted in Eley getting hired there.
“Chef Matt covers a lot and I’m more of a hands-on person. So once he got me my first job at The Lake Club and I started doing it, it became easier,” Eley says. “Chef Matt isn’t all book work. He gets us in the kitchen because he wants us to start experiencing the hands-on stuff.”
The job link between restaurant operators looking for candidates from trade schools is one that Eley now relies on.
“I do the hiring for kitchen guys and if I need someone, I will text Chef Matt,” Eley says.
Canzonetta says he regularly checks in with MCCTC and other trade schools to see if they have any recommendations, and hires when necessary.
“It’s always great to take a young mind and train them in the good habits that you’ve created over the course of a career, as opposed to going with someone who was trained somewhere else where the standards are not as high,” he says.
Graduates of MCCTC are grounded in the fundamentals, he says.
“It’s high school. But they come out with training in culinary principles,” Canzonetta says. “At age 18, it’s time for them to further their education or else get real-world experience.”
Because the new graduates lack a record of work service, Canzonetta pays close attention to character and comportment when hiring.
“My father taught me years ago that you have to look into how they carry themselves,” he says.
Canzonetta, a native of Warren, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. He has worked as a chef for Food Channel celebrity Guy Fieri, helping him to open more than 30 restaurant projects across the country.
Bistro 1907’s days and hours have been cut back because of the pandemic. The restaurant is now open Thursday through Sunday, starting at 4 p.m.
Eley arrives at noon each day to open the restaurant, with Wednesdays reserved for prep cooking and baking.
While he enjoys working at Bistro 1907, Eley says his long-term goal is to launch a food truck business with his Bistro 1907 co-worker, Anthony Petrovich, who is a cook and an MCCTC culinary graduate.
“Anthony is a great kid as well,” Canzonetta says, noting that his family has a concession trailer company. “He’s done a lot of fairs and festivals, working in a small kitchen operating area.”