I found Chef Jon Maley, founder of ChūcH, on Instagram and wanted to share his story from the moment I laid eyes on his culinary creations. As it turns out, the man behind the exquisite pop-up dinners around Tacoma and Seattle has endured much more from life than just the heat from an oven. His inspirational journey proves that no matter what circumstances are thrown at us, or even what we get ourselves into, there is a way to pick ourselves up, there is hope and we can all take steps towards bettering ourselves.
My interview with him started as a typical one would, but for this article, I thought it would be best to share his story in his own words first.
“I was born in 1977 in a rural town in New Jersey. We lived in farm country. We had goats, rabbits, dogs, and cats. From the age of 6, it was on me to feed and take care of these animals. I learned at a young age what it meant to take ownership and think of someone other than myself. We moved to California in 1986, and my parents divorced a year later. This was a huge devastation to my dad. We had just moved, and now he has to raise two kids on his own. It was rough for all of us. I learned to cope with life through the excessive use of alcohol.
I drank all through junior high and then got to high school. My high school career consisted of drugs, alcohol, and misdemeanor behavior. I did some very stupid and ignorant things which, to this day, I still regret. I did end up graduating high school, and then turned 18 two months later. My dad was fed up with the path I chose and kicked me out that day. For the next few months, I lived in hotels and sold drugs to pay for food and rent. In January of 1996, I called my mom to see if I could stay with her and try to get clean.
From 1996 to 2000, I moved to several different states including Wyoming, Utah, Texas, and California. I spent over a year incarcerated in four different county jails, lived for months on the streets of San Francisco, and traveled the country selling drugs. I had spoken to my dad about two times during this time. I reached out to him in 2000 and said I was ready to change. He helped me get an apartment in California, and I stayed in the East Bay for about 8 years. He never gave up on me, he just wanted me to succeed.
After a long run of waiting tables and bartending, I went to Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco in 2004. Unfortunately, I had not stopped the drug and alcohol use. I did graduate and started working fresh out of school. I was excited to do what I was doing, and because of great opportunities, I rose quickly in my field. In 2006, I was a Sous Chef for Michelin Starred Chef, Roland Passot. It was great, but I honestly had no energy or love of life, due to the fact that I was wasted all the time. I kept that job for two years, woke up one day and just couldn’t do it anymore. I needed help. My wife and I just got married and I lied to her almost every single day about my addiction. I had had enough. I resigned and checked into rehab.
Checking into rehab was the best thing I ever did. I highly recommend that you take a look at https://enterhealth.com/ if you or someone you love is struggling with addiction. Following on from that, I moved up to Washington in late 2008 to start over. I found a good job and moved on to work better jobs. My son was born in 2010, and my daughter in 2012. To this day, they have not seen the monster I used to be, and its been close to 10 years that my wife has been happy. Most people ask about my bio, and I usually just talk about places I’ve worked, or what I do in spare time. The truth is my dedication stems from humility. I was a horrible, nasty person in my past. Today I inspire people to not only eat better but cook better. I am on a constant high from the fact that I am alive and get to do what I do every day. I found something I am good at, and I want to show the next generation that is possible succeed in the life you choose. As long as you enjoy it. I am not saying this to get sympathy. I am saying this so you can get a better understanding of why this is so important to me.
It is important for people to realize that what they are eating has meaning, and should be an experience, not just convenience. The last 10 years has taught me that life is made up of experiences, and we should cherish every one. Put the best you possible on the plate, because you don’t know if that meal will change someone’s life for the better. My dad has taught me so many things in this life, but the one I take away the most, is to live with integrity. If we do the best we can to outsource a well-raised product, take care as we cook and prepare it, we can be satisfied about its life and what it gave us.”
Now that you know the true man behind ChūcH, let’s learn more about his culinary creations!
Tell us more about your dad and how the ChūcH Restaurant and the Pop-Up dinners came to be?
The story behind ChūcH is when I was about 10 years old, my dad got a letter in the mail addressed to Chuch, instead of his name Chuck. From then on, his name was Chuch. He is still alive today, but I owe who I am to him. My work ethic, ownership of my life, and values, I learned from him. I started doing pop ups in 2015, mostly in Seattle. I realized that I wanted to be in Tacoma, mainly because this is my backyard. Funny story is, I saw a friend on the freeway one day, and we drove next to each other doing about 65 MPH. Rolled down our windows, and proceeds to yell “You should start doing pop-ups!” We chatted, or yelled, at each other for about another mile or two, and the idea was already reality.
What makes the ChūcH experience different than the rest?
ChūcH is an experience that changes your perception of what dining should be. We concentrate on the utilization of this great NW product, in an attempt to throw less away. Through textures and techniques, we strive to put more on the plate, while using the same ingredients. We want to change the guest’s ideas about what a certain ingredient should taste or look like. Food can transform into almost whatever you want it to, with proper technique. It’s the people at a ChūcH event that make it all worth it -friends, neighbors, strangers, all in one room, enjoying a great night.
Its all about service for me. The food could be the best I have ever eaten, but if the service sucks, I will never go back. And I mean service from people in the restaurant who really give a shit about this hospitality world. Excuse my swearing. Its just that important to me. Also, integrity. There are places in Tacoma that I have worked for a second or two, that blatantly lie to the public. Restaurants that say they are fine dining, that bring in every sauce made, even jugs of hollandaise for brunch, pre-hardboiled eggs, and other crap. Some of these places are only generating $2.5 million a year, which is not too much to make things in-house. Tacoma people need better and deserve better. It drives me more to open a place and feed Tacoma, knowing these places still exist.
What are some of your favorite meals to cook for others?
Honestly, I love just throwing some food down on the grill and enjoying the company of friends. Let the kids run a around, and just hang out. I will say, Thanksgiving is one holiday that I really like to cook. Its one where the wife and I both get our hands dirty!
Since this is What’s Up NW, what are your favorite Northwest places to hang out (eat, drink, chill, have fun, etc)?
We would love to get out more, but honestly with the kids, it doesn’t always happen. I love Derek at The Table Tacoma, Alex at The Mill, and X-Group Restaurants are doing a good job. We find ourselves at places like Trampoline Nation, and Family Fun Center a lot. But now that the sun is out, we will be at the beach! ChūcH will be a family restaurant where dad can get some great Anderson Ranch Lamb Chops, and the kids get a baked pizza pocket, or small seared salmon. We want better options for kids, but also for parents to enjoy some good food.
Are there any charities that are near and dear to your heart that you work with and why?
I have donated to Wounded Warrior for the past two years and I’m always down to donate to any charity that feeds kids.
What are you looking forward to in 2018 and into 2019?
2019 will be our year! The rest of 2018 will help to iron out some kinks, but we will open doors in 2019. Got to positive about this. We hope to do many more pop ups between now and then, so definitely keep an ear out!