Michelin-Starred Chef Defies the Culinary Status-Quo
By Joëlle Creamer
Gerald Sombright’s culinary tale began at 18 years old in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, at a well-known restaurant in a hotel just across the street from the Cardinal’s Busch Stadium.
As prep cook and dishwasher, he learned the ins and outs of the back of house. He soon found himself enamored with each day, not one ever the same and each one bearing something to learn. A portrait of the preeminent French chef Auguste Escoffier hung on the wall, an unrecognizable person to Sombright at the time, but later proving symbolic in his journey.
He watched the restaurant chef cut fresh tuna with careful precision and wondered, “Why is this guy taking this so seriously? There must be something much deeper to this than I know.” In less than eight years’ time, young Sombright earned the top spot as chef de cuisine of the same restaurant.
From there, he went on to work under the direction of award-winning and Celebrity Chef Michael Mina at the acclaimed Wit & Wisdom restaurant at the Four Seasons Baltimore Waterfront. “This was the most talented group of people I’ve ever worked with in one environment,” Sombright recalled as he recounted his culinary path. He later opened PB&G at the Four Seasons Resort in Orlando, led by Chef Fabrizio Schenardi, as well as multiple restaurants at JW Marriott in Marco Island, including the celebrated tapas-style Mediterranean dining experience, Tesero.
Excellence is no stranger to Sombright; he has graced the James Beard House as a featured guest chef, and holds alum status with Bravo TV’s Top Chef Season 14. “Perfection is unattainable, and excellence is habitual,” he shared. He attributes much of his success to his drive for excellence, and his ability to execute at a high level … consistently. “That is the difference between good and great,” he remarked as he explained how throughout his career he would stay late and arrive early to ﬁnish prep for the day ahead.
Chef Gerald Sombright became the first black recipient of the Michelin star
“The MICHELIN star is validation for something you already do — something that your community and peers already recognize in you,” he said. Alongside Chef John Tesar, Sombright opened Knife & Spoon, the signature steak and seafood restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Orlando. And in 2022, the restaurant earned a MICHELIN Star, making Chef Gerald Sombright the ﬁrst Black man in America to earn the most coveted culinary accolade in the world.
The pages of Sombright’s story keep turning, with his recent appointment as executive chef at the Troon-managed property, The Club at the Dunes of Naples, Florida. The plot is still unfolding as he arrives in a golf industry that presents a paradigm not so different from the culinary profession — hailing from Europe and at times constrained by its lack of diversity in participation, leadership, and accolades.
But to Chef Gerald, “we are all cooks once we put on this white jacket.”
When he ﬁrst stepped into the kitchen, the people he worked for practiced this idea. “We didn’t use race as a tool to separate or stop people from opportunities. When I became a chef de cuisine at 20-something, they saw me as the best cook in the restaurant. Yes, I’ve been held back before because of my race, but then I chose to go work somewhere else. Because of these experiences, I never see race in this way in the kitchen. Any time I put on my chef coat I see it as an even playing ﬁeld. That’s the way I was introduced to the career, and that’s how I go forward.”
Nowadays, Chef Gerald is in the position to give back, showing the culinary world that celebrated chefs belong in the club industry and sharing his experiences with younger chefs who might be searching for a familiar face, while also dishing up truly outstanding cuisine for members of The Dunes and the city of Naples.
Leaving a legacy. It’s what Sombright does wherever he goes.