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Meet Steven Havens

Today we’d like to introduce you to Steven Havens.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Steven. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I am a caterer, personal chef and cooking class instructor in downtown Los Angeles. My culinary passion is helping students and clients understand that: a) great food need not break the bank and drain your discretionary time and b) a person can be both 100% committed to their job while simultaneously not allowing it to consume their lives.

Born in the late 70s, I was raised in rural Alabama where I lived until I graduated high school. I moved to South Florida soon thereafter, where my culinary perspective immediately grew exponentially. Exposure to Cuban, Colombian, Bahamian, Peruvian and many other cuisines solidified a life long love affair with food. But my career had not yet coalesced around my passion. I joined a large national bank soon after moving to South Florida, where I would spend the next 15 years working and climbing the corporate ladder.

Many adventures, love affairs and summers at the beach later, I arrived at the threshold of my new life in San Francisco. There, I learned that what I previously thought of as diversity in South Florida was really just one color pallet in an overwhelmingly immense array. Vietnamese, Burmese, Korean, Ethiopian, Japanese, Thai, Mexican, Hawaiian, Italian: the flavors of San Francisco were as arrayed and beautiful as her Victorian homes lining the streets of the Haight. My job brought me there, but my heart was now buried beneath the fog rolling in under the glittering Golden Gate Bridge.

But my fate wasn’t to stay in San Francisco, where I met a boy. He challenged me and him. And within two years, I had left my heart in San Francisco to follow him to Los Angeles. Together, we hatched a plan to leave behind our corporate jobs in finance and tech. We set a goal to backpack around the world for a year and two months, the trip being bookended by his 35th birthday and my 40th. We’d both celebrate two birthdays abroad- jobless, homeless and absolutely in love with life.

Along the road, carrying all my worldly possessions on my back, my perspective changed. I knew I could never go back to the corporate world of finance. But what could I do? Where was my passion? To answer these questions, I set off on a trek around the spiritually significant Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. I had walked barely an hour when I was able to answer these questions without hesitation: What do you enjoy doing that doesn’t feel like work? and What would be the first step you’d need to take to make this your full-time job?

The answer was clear. I love cooking, I love teaching. I can take the first step of going to culinary school to make my cooking knowledge “official” and then see where that path takes me. And here I am, four years after that walk in Guatemala. I have finished culinary school and am in process of getting my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees to enable me to teach. In the meantime, I cater events and teach grilling classes. And. I. Love. My. Life.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Is any road worth taking smooth? 😉

No, there have been many struggles. To get the transfer I wanted to come to California I had to take whatever job was available, which meant a 90 minute commute 2x per day. To save the money needed for our 14month adventure abroad, we sold all our “stuff”, eliminated all dining out and going out to bars and clubs, and moved into a tiny 1 BR apartment to save money. To go to culinary school, I had to clean houses, take odd jobs, work whenever I could find work to make it through.

But our priorities as humans are the guideposts for our actions. If traveling is important, then eating at home isn’t a sacrifice too hard to bear. If getting a degree is important, then you don’t always need to be up to date on the latest Netflix binge. If you want to save money, it is entirely possible to never, ever go to Starbucks.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
My passion is teaching and cooking. I grew up learning about grilling and BBQing, so that’s what my classes are focused on. Currently carrying a 5star review across the board, my students would tell you that my specialty is demystifying the science and art behind grilling.

I am most proud of being able to teach students how to make meals they’d never be able to afford at a fancy restaurant or think they could make. I also love sharing our story of doing what we want, and not allowing society’s expectations affect our actions in any way. Our lives are full, rich and completely owned by us.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
An ability to swallow my fear and try things that might not work, or might flop, or might make other people question my sanity. 🙂

So many people thought I was crazy for leaving my 15 years SrExecutive position at a national bank to be a grubby backpacker of a certain age. But that experience was mine, something for me by me with no need to justify or apologize to anyone else.

Fear keeps people from trying things they want- lose the fear and just try it. When you can answer the question “what’s the worst that could happen” with anything other than “I’ll probably die” then why not try it? And if it doesn’t work out, try something else!

For example, I thought going into culinary school that owning a food truck would be a great start in the business, so that’s how I oriented myself. Turns out, after doing an internship on a food truck, that it was a miserable experience, a complete misalignment of my skillset and my priorities. But catering was much more in alignment, which I also tried out as an intern.

Being comfortable in discomfiture, a lesson from backpacking around the globe, taught me this. 🙂

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
All photos taken by my husband, Jeb Havens.

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