Moretown native Connor Pearl, currently sous chef at Ever Restaurant in Chicago, got his start in the business while still in high school.
The 2010 graduate of Harwood Union worked at the Round Barn for former chef Charlie Menard when he was 14 years old, washing dishes and then doing some plating and prepping, then later doing some cooking. That job led him to gigs at the Pitcher Inn in Warren, Juniper’s Fare in Waterbury, and then after moving several times and working through some family and personal issues, he landed at the Skinny Pancake.
He continued in the industry, working for La Puerta Negra in Montpelier and then across the parking lot at Positive Pie in management and director positions.
He got a job at Topnotch in Stowe and things accelerated.
“And that was a real turning point for me in my culinary career, I was in a place that really considered itself fine dining. That was where I really learned a lot. I learned a lot about flavor combinations and the fine dining setting. I learned how to do some butchery and a lot more,” Pearl said.
He heard about Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, considered one of Vermont’s finest restaurants and approached management about doing a “stage” a restaurant term that is a working interview where applicants prep, cook and plate meals. He was hired and spent the next year or so there.
When he left there, he was considering next steps and, in the interim, reached out to Charlie Menard again, who’d just opened Canteen Creamee in Waitsfield. He helped out there for a couple of months before losing one of his best friends, Lily McCausland. That was devastating for him and the closeness of a small community where people were constantly coming up to him and expressing their sorrow for his loss was too much for him.
He set his sights on Chicago and Chef Grant Achatz’s Alina which at the time was considered one of the best restaurants in the country.
He reached out and was surprised when he was asked to come do a two-day stage where he worked two 12.5-hour shifts. He was offered the job.
“I was blown away. It felt like getting drafted by the Chicago Bulls or something,” he said. He moved to Chicago and the work was intense, 16-hour days, 100-hour weeks. He was still grieving his friend Lily and he was sleeping on a hardwood floor because he’d moved with only a suitcase of clothes.
“It was brutal work. Obviously, you’re producing some of the best food in the world and working with some of the best chefs in the world, but I was getting worked to the bone, there was staff bullying and I was mourning Lily. I quit,” he said.
Soon however, he realized that restaurant work offered him what he lacked in his life in terms of discipline and attention to detail.
“It became something to chase,” he said. COVID hit and restaurants closed and he began going to college for forensic psychology for a year.
“During COVID, I realized I hadn’t given Alina its fair shake. That was the whole reason I came to Chicago. I went back and was there for almost two years and it was really good. I decided I did want to pursue this. How many people get to say they’re working in the highest possible echelon for their career? Not too many,” he recalled.
“Something clicked and it became almost a militaristic thing where I wanted to become as organized and efficient and fast and professional as possible, exorcising all bad habits,” Pearl noted, adding that working in a top-tier restaurant like Alina made it possible to do that work and really hone in on doing his best work.
He is now working at Ever Restaurant under Chef Curtis Duffy and is really into it. He loves the working-class persona of Chicago and loves living there.
“I’m happy to be working where I am, as the sous chef of Ever Restaurant. It’s crazy to think I was watching a documentary about Chef Duffy almost a decade ago and now I’m his sous chef,” he said. Ever Restaurant has two Michelin stars and he is excited to work with Duffy on a third.
Part of his recent work was preparing foods that were featured in the second season of the Hulu series The Bear. He got to review the scripts and come up with food and techniques that could be used for the show. For one episode he had his hands on pretty much every component of the food shown.
“You don’t see my face, but every detail of what you’re looking at in terms of the food and the things they use for it was stuff I helped create or did myself. It was pretty awesome, and that show was nominated for 13 Emmys,” he said.
What he still finds captivating about his career is the discipline.
“I’m a clean freak, I’m OCD when it comes to being organized. I want to be a samurai as far as being clean, quiet and efficient. That’s what makes me want to come in every day. Just getting better at that,” he said.
“I will absolutely stay with this as a career. I’m in my 30s, and I’m the sous chef for one of the best chefs in the world. I’m all in at this point I’ve made it too far. My goal is to open my own restaurant eventually,” he added.