Whether he is preparing delicious food, managing an event, writing a book, or fighting a tenacious disease, Eric LeVine is a man with a mission.
When Eric was a youngster, he hated school, skipped classes on a regular basis, and was finding trouble around most every corner. His grandfather, a certified master butcher who had emigrated from Germany after World War II, had some pretty firm ideas about what would help his lost grandson find his way.
Starting at age 11, Eric had shown an interest in foodservice when working as a chef’s helper for a caterer. Fanning that spark, Eric’s grandfather sent him to France, at the age of 14, to work and learn under Chef Jean Louis at La Maison in Lyon. Eric would go on to train with Chef Giovanni Brunello in Florence and Chef Lee Ho in Tokyo. Even with years of kitchen experience under his belt, Eric chose to pursue a formal education at The Culinary Institute of America.
Following his graduation, Eric’s career took off. He worked with David Burke ’82 at The River Café, became chef de cuisine at the Marriot Marquis in New York City, and formed his own catering company on Long Island. At the age of 31, Eric was happy with his life and career when he received devastating news—cancer. In fact, Eric has battled five different cancers over the past 10 years. “I’ve always thought that I could beat whatever came my way,” Eric says. “That’s the upbringing I had—to fight. Every chef I’ve worked for and all the chef-instructors at the CIA taught me you never give up, you never give less than the best you can give. For 10 years, I think the biggest thing that kept me going was my love of cooking, of creating new experiences and new flavors for people.”
Just three weeks before he was scheduled to compete on the Food Network show Chopped, Eric, then executive chef at Montammy Golf Club in Alpine, NJ, got the news that he had a rare type of acute adult leukemia. Despite this setback, Eric forged forward. He reported to the studio after a day of radiation treatment, battling both fatigue and nausea. Despite this, Eric’s skill and passion carried him through. He came out on top, winning the $10,000 prize.
Now in remission, Eric looks at life with a different perspective. “After cancer I feel that I have to help people eat better, but without forcing it on them,” he says. “Chefs today are more aware of healthy eating, and we have opportunities to educate while still serving delicious dishes. My approach is to shift the way people are eating by giving them a menu that helps them make better decisions.”
With renewed energy, Eric is busier than ever. In 2011, he released his first cookbook, Stick It, Spoon It, Put It in a Glass: Recipes for Small Bites. His latest book, entitled Small Bites, Big Flavor, was released in October 2013 and features a forward by David Burke. Eric is chef/partner of the Morris Tap and Grill in Rudolph, NJ; partner of Sarah Bakery and the Twisted Group; and the owner of EXQ Consulting. He teaches seminars for CaterSource, Event Solutions, and the International Caterers Association, where he served a term as council chairman. He also writes a monthly column on catering for Chef magazine. Eric recently received the 2013 Restaurant Guild International’s Five-Star Chef of the Year Award for “unique innovations in fine dining.”
And Eric’s work with the American Cancer Society has given him a new mission. “It’s the first time I’m getting to use my life to do something really positive for people,” he says. From lost boy to successful and talented man, Eric’s ongoing journey sends a clear message of perseverance, courage, and joy.