A person’s first job is never supposed to become their career—if that were the case, the number one profession in America would be grocery bagger. So when a 16-year-old Tre Wilcox took his work permit to a kitchen, he certainly didn’t expect to discover that cooking would become the great passion of his life. “I started working as a short order cook in a little family-owned place just to make money,” he recalls. “I didn’t really think I was going to put my all into it. And sure enough, I became more intrigued.”
The more time he spent in the kitchen, the more Wilcox knew that this was his calling. By the time he turned 19, cooking had become an obsession. “I realized quickly that I loved this shit and that I don’t want to be away from this,” he says. “I wanted to learn as much as I could about it.” Instead of going the route of getting a formal education through culinary school, Wilcox decided to just go out and work. In order to learn from some of the best chefs in the country he would work in their kitchens for free, a practice known as staging. He has staged in over 30 restaurants and continues to do so, leading up to him opening his first place, Marquee Restaurant, in early 2011.
His vision is a restaurant without borders that will offer up as many cuisines as possible under one roof. Drawing from a broad spectrum of experiences in his life gives a distinct style to both Wilcox’s cooking and his ink. His Christian faith, his family, Chinese mythology, and his personal ethos are all reflected in the artwork on his arm. He explains that the apple on his arm represents “two loves: a love for JC and a love for food.” Wilcox’s first tattoo was the phrase “Gotta Have Passion.” When you look at his life and his work, one couldn’t think of a more apt way to describe him. It is that passion that has brought him great success in and out of the kitchen, including the past season of Top Chef on which he looked to be the chef to beat—something that didn’t quite pan out and that he’s giving another go in Top Chef All-Stars. He calls the experience, like all of his cooking in other people’s kitchens, a learning process—one that’s ongoing. “When you wake up, you spend every one of your days trying to find out more about what it is that you love,” Wilcox declares. “I won’t ever plateau as a chef. Every day I’m aggressive with getting out to learn more.” Lucky for our taste buds his first gig wasn’t video store clerk.