Photo Credit: Kevin Raquidan
Written By: Ronald Sklar
Chef Geoff Cole, a former U.S. Navy first-class culinary specialist, has cooked in over 37 countries for admirals, senators, diplomats, and many more high-ranking officials. He’s also cooked for 3500 sailors and Marines a day during Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq.
A tall order. So how did he achieve and excel in this monumental task?
“I do a lot of homework,” he says. “I learn from the local cultures.”
Now Geoff’s extensive expertise is put to use for military staff, veterans, and civilians alike.
His new restaurant, The Admiral Experience (7407 Jackson Drive, San Diego, CA 92119) aims to treat every customer as if they were an admiral. And to Geoff, that means “World Class.”
“That’s where I came up with the name ‘The Admiral Experience’,” he says. “I wanted to bring that feel and service to the people.”
The military prepared him for the challenge, but he also got down and dirty in the trenches for more even more brutal combat in another battlefield: he led the U.S. Navy Team in the Boling Point Competition and received high praise from the celebrity judges, including Penny Davidi from the Food Network.
His signature “Cole’s Curry Chicken” not only gave our nation’s heroes a sense of home cooking, but also earned him the coveted role of the commanding officer’s personal chef.
Chef Geoff’s culinary talent catapulted him to higher military rankings and more important missions. In 2006, he cooked for foreign dignitaries aboard the USS Halyburton, which included the President of Chile. He was sent to Navy and civilian culinary courses and was designated a Chef de Cuisine by the American Culinary Foundation.
While flying the Pacific Fleet Commander on an Admiral’s mission to Japan during the country’s devastating tsunami, Geoff was encouraged by the Admiral to pursue a career in the food industry outside the Navy.
A restaurant of Geoff’s own seemed to be a logical next step after his military stint ended, but it took some contemplation. However, the stars seemed to be aligning in the sky for this project.
“I didn’t think I was ready for a restaurant yet,” Geoff says. “I was doing catering for a while, but I got a government contract that needed a bigger kitchen. So my government contract was able to pay for my restaurant. I opened it within three weeks.”
He’s come a long way from his humble beginnings in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, NY.
“Food was a big thing in my family,” he says. “We never really ate outside food. Mom cooked a lot. And when I joined the military, I was a cook. I eventually took an interest in it. At first, I hated the job, because of the hard work and long hours. But I just wanted the best person I could be. And that took me to the next level.”
Even at that early stage in his young adulthood, Geoff had made great strides in his life. His mother came to America illegally from Jamaica (Geoff was born in the U.S.). In order to pay the bills and put that food on the table, she turned to drug sales (although never taking drugs herself).
“I remember crack crumbs in my bed,” Geoff said.
However, he made his mind up early on to plan an escape. He joined the Navy in 2002, landing on the USS Bellauwood as a seaman recruit.
“I observed my surroundings and looked to my future,” he says of his escaping his gang-and-drug-infested neighborhood. “I thought about where I wanted to be when I was 30 or 40 years old. I didn’t want to be how everybody else was at that age.”
Geoff is still close with his mother and continues to be present in her life (she no longer sells drugs).
Today, he’s living in San Diego, but you can’t take the Bed-Sty out of Geoff. He says, “There are a lot of opportunities here. I come from New York, where I learned how to hustle and not take no for an answer. I bring a certain amount of that to San Diego, and it helps me get over the hump.”
His restaurant never forgets the vets: Military Mondays pays it forward by giving veterans 20% off their bill. Click here to find out about other awesome specials throughout the week.
Geoff’s favorite food, by the way, is pure Jamaican: ox tails and rice. In the meantime, he’s busy creating meals that take customers far away from the mess hall.
“My military experience did change me dramatically,” he says. “There were times before I joined the military thinking that I worked too much. But in the military, they work you real hard. They also teach you to adapt to and overcome situations. Make the best out of whatever you have.”
Click here to find out more about The Admiral Experience.
Written By: Ronald Sklar