Chef/owner Doug Gulija of The Plaza Café in Southampton started his culinary career as many do—by washing dishes—and has worked his way up to entrepreneurship.
He started at the Old Mill restaurant in Southampton when he was 13 and was taken under the wing of a French chef from Burgundy. It wasn’t until a short-lived college basketball career forced him to make a career path change and enter the culinary school at Johnson and Wales that he realized just how much that French chef taught him. “I knew how to make hollandaise, pate choux, demiglace,” Gulija says. “And I was so surprised that many of my fellow classmates couldn’t even pronounce some of these techniques, much less execute them.”
Upon graduation, Gulija started his career with Marriott Hotels under the tutelage of his mentor Chef Peter Montgomery. It was here that he was provided an environment to fully learn and develop his culinary skills. It was also here that he was provided with the business knowledge to successfully operate a kitchen.
After a stint cooking in France, Gulija ended up back in his hometown of Southampton landing a gig as sous chef at Mirko’s Restaurant in Water Mill, where he helped them garner their third star from Newsday. After working as the chef de cuisine of the original Laundry restaurant in East Hampton and then as head chef at Monterey Seafood Grill, the opportunity soon came to own his own restaurant in Southampton. Thus, The Plaza Café was born. The initial intention was to have a casual, low-key restaurant that focused on local and sustainable seafood. But the accolades soon turned The Plaza Café into a fine dining destination. Today though, Gulija has returned to the original plan with what he calls a “return to cooking” and not getting caught up in so much of the nonsense of this profession. And as one restaurant critic succinctly put it, “Chef Gulija feels at ease.”
To learn more about The Plaza Café, visit plazacafesouthampton.com.