“I was born in Pittsburgh and never escaped,” jokes Michael Zawojski, Executive Chef at Roost and creator of the upcoming San Antonio-themed “#Foodtripping” menu series.
And “escape” from this town is not easy, as many Pittsburgh locals know. For those who do attempt to leave, the boomerang effect is strong with young professionals that move out of the city only to return to their hometown roots a few years later. But as the city evolves the mindset is changing—and escape doesn’t need to be the end goal. Opportunities abound locally, and as Chef’s story tells us, it’s no longer necessary to leave town to gain world-class experience.
The rise of technology, healthcare, and education has put Pittsburgh on the map in the past decade, progress soon followed by a burgeoning food scene. Pittsburgh is now recognized world-wide for its forward thinking cuisine with the BBC recently recognizing the city as a “US Destination Foodies Shouldn’t Miss in 2019.”
Thanks to this climate, Chef was able to take advantage a career path through roles at Pittsburgh’s leading restaurants, offering him a resume that is incredibly diverse and sophisticated, yet authentically Pittsburgh.
A Start at an Ice Cream Shop
It all started at age 14 when he applied to his first job at an ice cream shop up the street. With no particular interest in food service, Chef says it’s “the first place that would legally hire me and allow me to earn a paycheck.”
The complex yet simple operation of the small business was intriguing, showing him the full scope of a food service establishment. “It was something I knew I could do on my own if I wanted to,” he says.
His college education equipped him with a degree in Graphic Design from LaRoche College, however, he found himself ultimately drawn back to restaurants.
From Fast Casual to Fine Dining
His experience ran the gamut from fast-casual operations where he witnessed the value of systems and operations, to independently owned and operated restaurants where he learned management and culinary skills.
Other experience included work in a hotel banquet department and even a short stint opening a nightclub.
International Experience Gained Close to Home
“I came into this work just as the food scene was coming into Pittsburgh about 10 years ago,” Chef explains.
It’s around that time that one of his roles brought him into contact
with a globally-inspired menu and diverse team at one of Lawrenceville’s pioneering restaurants, Tamari.
“I was the only one there born and raised in Pittsburgh.” Chef explains of his experience. “I was one of the few who actually spoke English, it made me feel like an outcast in my own city. What that did was help me really become focused on food.” A challenge, he says, that pushed him to hone in his culinary skills.
Next up was work at Point Brugge, the popular Belgian-inspired restaurant known for their mussels, followed by a career path through various departments at the Omni William Penn Hotel. These diverse experiences gave him great mentors along the way and plenty of hands-on experience in all aspects of the business.
What’s Next at Roost
At Roost, Chef Zawojski looks forward to bringing together the skills from his past to showcase the regional cuisines from across America that inspire our menu. He looks forward to lending his unique training and experience to lead the staff, advance careers and grow within the company.
Join us Fridays and Saturdays this February to meet Chef and discover our latest #Foodtripping destination, San Antonio, with American comfort foods infused with Latin flare taking the stage. Try selections like brisket con mole, shrimp tostada and smoked chicken croquetta. Reservations recommended by calling 412-281-1616.