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Davies always cooking up an idea

July 16, 1999|By BOB PARASILITI

Life is like a spice rack to Justin Davies.

Think about it. Everyone is born with the basics in this dish we call life. For most, it's the combination of choices and influences in proportional measurements that make existence bland or zesty to one's taste.

"Life had a recipe of its own," said Davies.

If anyone should hold that philosophy close, it's Davies. In the last six years, he has transformed himself from New York teenager with aspirations of becoming a chef to starting center fielder of the Hagerstown Suns.

The only thing the two professions have in common are plates - dinner and home. But at age 22, Davies has a recipe for living that helps him keep a foot in each of the two diverse worlds. Take a struggling high school student with a kitchen curiosity. Add a scoop of opportunity to a pinch of parental ingenuity. Pour into container with immeasurable amount of burning desire and you have Justin Davies.

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In a sense, he's a budding gourmet. He's a person who likes fine food and is a good judge of it.

But for now, all that cooking is on the back burner. Home on the range is patrolling the outfield at Municipal Stadium.

If life would have gone the way Davies thought it was destined, he'd be creating haddock on dishes instead of havoc on pitchers.

"I started cooking in high school," he said. "I liked to go and help my mom out in the kitchen. The time came when I wasn't doing very well in school so they decided to send me to Wilson Tech, a technical school where I would go for half a day to learn a trade and to school for the other half to help pick up my grades."

Davies admits he was an uninspired student who loved athletics, but didn't share the same passion for chemistry and biology. But when he discovered Wilson's culinary arts program, his hunger for knowledge was rekindled. He found what he thought was his calling in life.

"I loved cooking. I loved everything about it," he said. "I loved the class, the commercial kitchen and the white outfits. I wasn't recruited out of school for any sports. Cooking, that's what I wanted to do."

Davies tested his career choice by taking a job in the kitchen at a small New York yacht club. Most of the time, Davies' cooking consisted of boiling three pounds of three different pastas. Meanwhile, the chef prepared the sauces and did all the more involved dishes.

"I loved to do all the sauteing stuff," Davies said. "I loved to cut up all the stuff and throw it in the pan and cook it. It's fast and you get to do a lot of things with the pan. I hated to do the pasta because it was too hot."

Like most professionals, this chef had his own way of doing things, his signature method of presentation. Davies was allowed to watch and, at times, to imitate that style.

He wasn't the only person watching over Davies, though. After graduating from Wilson, Davies was sure he didn't want any part of college. Cooking school was for him, but he overlooked an expiration date.

He didn't fill out applications for the Culinary Institute of America, the Harvard of cooking schools, then waited too long to apply to other schools until it was too late.

One day, Davies' father, Robert, took him into New York City to visit the New York Restaurant School. With one look, Davies saw everything he wanted and was ready to enroll.

But it never happened. Instead, something came along to start a change of tastes from basting to bases and oven mitts to fielder's mitts.

The recipe included a twist of fate and a father's foresight.

"On the train ride back home, my father asked me why don't I give college a try," Davies said. "I said 'No, I want to cook.'"

Davies' father tried to convince him he'd be giving up his weekends and holidays at age 19 to work in busy restaurants. He knew his son's love for cooking, but also thought of his love for sports.

This was his pitch to make sure that the Hot Stove League wasn't the only baseball his son would enjoy.

Off his father's advice to try college for one semester, Davies entered Nassau Community College. The school didn't have a cooking major, so Davies studied hotel-restaurant management, figuring it will help him learn the business end of cooking for the day he would own a restaurant.

Again, cooking class was the secret ingredient to create Davies' interest.

"My father knows me," Davies admits. "He knew I'd like college. He knew I'd be meeting all kinds of different people and I'd have more say and control in the things I would be learning."

But Dad had a complete menu of ideas for his son.

In the fall, his father talked him into walking on for the football team. He made the squad as a receiver without an inkling of the kind of success the team would have.

"The next thing I knew, we were playing a bowl game in Pocatello, Idaho. That clinched it for the whole school thing," Davies said. "Sports was starting to take over, but the hotel-restaurant management classes were still important."

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