It took Tyler Layton a little while to find his calling.
When he was younger, he thought he would end up being a hockey player.
“I was never the best in scholastics but I had always loved playing hockey,” Layton said. “I was always a B or C student. Until I was 15 if you would have asked me what I was going to do when I was older, I would have replied, ‘Duh, I’m going to play hockey.’ Those people probably looked right back at me and said I had no chance of making a career out of hockey.”
Layton still enjoys hockey, but his career has taken off in another direction. The 2004 grad is now the Executive Chef at Twisted Tree steakhouse on Watson Road, just a few blocks from Vianney, and it is a career that started out, in part, because of a connection he formed at Vianney.
“I was very fortunate that Tyler Kane was in my class,” Layton said. “We lived on the same street so we started carpooling to and from school. As you know the Kane family owns Citizen Kane’s. My dad was very big into letting me have fun with friends and sports, but he was also very adamant that I had some sort of job.”
That job came in the form of busing tables at an IHOP, during the summer and on Sunday mornings, which led to a job as a dishwasher and to finding his calling in the kitchen.
Layton eventually went to work at Citizen Kane’s, washing dishes for a few years before deciding what to do for college. Instead, college became culinary school, where he could turn his love of working in kitchens into a career. An opportunity working as a cook, after one of the cooks quit, changed those plans.
“By the time I started culinary school I was already two feet deep in Kane’s kitchen,” he said. “Culinary school was so slow. I was learning twice as much everyday at Kane’s and getting paid to do it. I decided I wanted to just learn on the job and maybe look back into school at a later date.”
Layton learned on the job at Kane’s but eventually ventured out in search of more, working and learning in kitchens at Lumiere Place Casino and Murdoch Perk among other stops before landing a career-changing opportunity at Trattoria Marcella working under Steve Komorek.
“I can’t say enough about this place,” Layton said. “The opportunity I got there was something I can never explain how grateful I am for.”
Starting out as a pasta cook, Layton learned everything he could from Komorek while working and earning his way into more opportunities. He was given more and more responsibilities but also more creative leeway.
“Stevie is and was the best chef in STL and he took me under his wing,” Layton said. “He treated me like a son or a brother. For a long time he called me his ‘guy’ to customers. Finally after about six years he called me his ‘chef’ and these are things I don’t know he realizes but that made me feel great. Because I know he made me earn it.”
Layton’s impressive work at Trattoria Marcella led to a phone call from a man named Jim Schuette, who is the COO of the Syberg’s family restaurants.
“Obviously I grew up with Ric and Josh — we went to St. Michael and Vianney together,” Layton said. “Ric and I were in the same class. Jim called me because the Syberg’s were in need of a chef for a new restaurant they were opening with another family and it was going to be a modern steakhouse. The first person I called when I got off the phone was Stevie and I asked him what I should do. He said I owe it to myself and I should at least talk with him.”
Komorek tried to pursue Layton to stay, but Layton couldn't pass up the opportunity.
Since then, Layton’s time at Twisted Tree has been better that he hoped for.
“We are a thriving restaurant and continue to grow,” he said. “When I first talked with Jim I would have told him he was insane if he would have told me he thought Twisted Tree would be what it is today. “
Layton has leaned on lessons learned at Vianney in his new role.
“Jim Schuette has taught me so much about being a leader and he told me that when I started,” Layton said. “He said he could not teach me what Stevie had but that he will teach me to lead and operate. One of the best classes I ever took was a leadership class that K. Walsh taught. Crazy. As a junior in high school you have no idea where you will end up but I now have 50-plus employees that work under and with me. And these people are not only employees they are friends that will do anything in the world for me as I will for them. Vianney taught me these values — treat people the way you want to be treated.”