Recipes for Resilience

The act of cooking isn’t usually believed to require resilience, but James Kelly is no ordinary cook. From his selfless service as a volunteer at Ground Zero on 9/11 to facing off against the legendary Bobby Flay on the TV show Iron Chef, James had already demonstrated remarkable resilience. Then came a devastating diagnosis stemming from his time at Ground Zero, putting James’s strength, perseverance, and family cohesion to the ultimate test.


[00:00:00] Stephen Calabria: From the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, this is Road to Resilience, a podcast about facing adversity. I'm your host, Stephen Calabria, the director of Mount Sinai's podcasting.

[00:00:14] On this episode, we welcome James Kelly, a professional chef from New York City. Mr. Kelly was one of the volunteers on 9 11 who raced to Ground Zero to distribute food to first responders.

[00:00:26] In 2007, James appeared on Season 4 of the hit TV show Iron Chef as a sous chef alongside his brother, Chef Peter Kelly. The pair faced off against the legendary Iron Chef Bobby Flay in the cook off. Then, over a decade later, James received a devastating, life threatening diagnosis stemming from his work at Ground Zero.

[00:00:48] In both his professional and personal life, Mr. Kelly has been an inspiration to those having to battle against long odds, and is a living example of resilience through hardship. We're honored to have James Kelly on the show. Mr. James Kelly, welcome to Road to Resilience.

[00:01:07] James Kelly: Thanks for having me, Steve. It's a pleasure to be here.

[00:01:11] Stephen Calabria: To kick things off, your career is largely as a maker of food. You come from a family of several children, is that right?

[00:01:19] James Kelly: I am the youngest of twelve.

[00:01:20] Stephen Calabria: The youngest of twelve. Yes. Okay, and was it in your family kind of atmosphere that you first learned, uh, or, no?

[00:01:28] James Kelly: No, no, no. It was, my mom couldn't boil water really? I love, she was phenomenal woman, but one of her skills was not cooking. So, you know, we kind of figured it out.

[00:01:41] A couple of us did. So, we didn't know it was, it was not in the, in the family. It's, it wasn't a family business or anything like that. My two brothers, Peter, who owns the Xavier's restaurant group, and Ned, who is the director of service for the restaurants, he has an antique store and things like that.

[00:01:59] When we were younger, we used to play a restaurant and my brother, Paul, and I would sit on the couch and they would come in and take our order and the menu usually had peanut butter and jelly, or a peanut butter sandwich, or a jelly sandwich.

[00:02:13] Stephen Calabria: Depending what was available.

[00:02:15] James Kelly: Always available on toast. So it goes way back to, for the four of us, playing in the restaurant.

[00:02:23] Stephen Calabria: Now, in terms of resilience, there are a few professions I can think of that are more appropriate than a cook. What kinds of lessons do you learn in a kitchen that you can apply to everyday life?

[00:02:36] James Kelly: Well, you know, you have to have the ability to organize yourself, and really roll with the punches. Cause things change constantly. You know, you always have some issue going on.

[00:02:50] Whether it's with an employee or a customer, there's always something you have to learn to adapt to. You do need a certain amount of resilience.

[00:03:02] Stephen Calabria: When you became a maker of food, was there something that drew you to it that you found most rewarding?

[00:03:09] James Kelly: Yeah, coming from a family of 12, there was no allowance in my family. So it was probably money. If we wanted to get a new pair of jeans, then we had to find a way to get them.

[00:03:21] When we talk about resilience, I don't know if it's something that some people have naturally, or they learn it or it comes with time and age and experience. I mean, I learned from a young age that, I better learn to adapt.

[00:03:36] My father had passed very early. I was seven or eight years old, so, I learned to get a little resilient then, because you have to start doing things for yourself. I mean, we all did, to some extent, so, of course, we had to find a way to make our own allowance.

[00:03:56] So, I delivered papers for years, before I was in the restaurant, And then one day my brother had asked me, he was working in a restaurant, along with my brother Ned, and I think my brother Paul was there too at the same time.

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