Cooks, bartenders, waiters, restaurateurs and service industry folks (notice I did not say professionals) are a mercurial bunch. There’s always a racket or an angle to be played. The list of personalities, pathologies and cracked-out horror shows we’ve encountered in our careers in this retail street game is so long the great Rick James wouldn’t have been able to snort it. (Rest in peace RJ.) The super talented cook unable to escape his sociopathic proclivities is a common tale in the basement kitchens of the world. In fact, some chefs-cum-writers have catapulted themselves into media fame by chronicling similar tales: the debasing of a chef, as if such an act is possible.

But what about those few who depart the “line” for greener pastures, those who take the skills they’ve developed in the kitchen and use them in creative or philanthropic ways. Yes, yes, they are few in number, but mighty in stature. Like our friend Clifford Endo Gulibert (pronounced almost like gummy-bear by with an L instead of the M’s…and that’s how I like to think of him). It’s clichéd and fuck if I can’t come up with a better line, but Clifford is truly a 21st Century Renaissance man. He came to work at the West Village Fatty Crab while he was still at the French Culinary Institute in SoHo. He stayed a while. Not the respectable full year to two that would earn him a recommendation to continue life as a journeyman line cook. But that was not his interest. His artistic inclinations are too eclectic to pin down to a single medium. He paints on all sorts of surfaces, he experiments with food, builds sculptures and billboards, shoots video. He is a true NYC asset.

We need guys like this, guys who inspire the shy and frightened well-trained masses to break free from the destiny of Crocs-wearing, fertility-drug-taking, trendy-coffee-sipping, gluten-free, hyper-allergenic, breeding drones. Ok, that may be a bit grandiose, but so fuckin’ what, the point was made.

Clifford started a multi-media company called 800lb Artists (www.800lbartists.com) on the same day he applied to culinary school, both decisions fueled by an epiphany he had while sitting in the MoMA: that he would only pursue a career involving subjects that truly made him happy. This started by representing a few of his friends who were former street artists who had decided to turn a corner and take a more commercial approach to their art. Guys such as the highly acclaimed Nathan Pickett, known for both his paper cutting and painting – one of his projects was commissioned by De La Soul for one of their tours; El Hase, a wildly graphic and aggressive style blending a variety of iconography; and Pablo Power, a sophisticated and refined sensibility from the streets of Miami. By the end of 2011, 800lb Artists will have signed over 20 artists.

But just representing the works of these artists was not enough for Clifford and his partners, Adam Remson and Biba von Spyer; they pondered the question of what does the artist do when he is not selling paintings. This is a reality for all artists, particularly in the middle of an economic crisis. And that reality for many is some mundane day job. Clifford turned the idea of the “day job” on its head by pairing his artists with companies that embrace their talents and allow them to use their creativity, such as in cutting-edge marketing projects and functional yet super dope looking products: a line of plates and coffee mugs, for example. He refers to it as “lifestyling.”   

We asked Clifford and his crew to tag a 40 foot high wall for us at Fatty ‘Cue in Brooklyn. They created giant stencils and used a scissor lift to cover the wall with animal icons and our logo. My Beverage Director, Adam Schuman and Clifford are currently working on designing a new soda machine for the imminent Fatty ‘Cue Manhattan; it will revolutionize the ability to make fresh, esoteric soda flavors on the fly. It will also combine the technical know-how Clifford learned from time spent with Dave Arnold of FCI and his interest in working with both a palate and a palette. There’s been talk of a Gall-erie: part gallery, part brasserie, “where the art and food intertwine and are essential to each other and the experience.” He even threw in the idea of a painter coming in and completing a painting throughout a tasting menu, where each course is timed to reflect the progression of the painting. We love the ambition!

Amazingly, he even finds some time to teach my son how to draw and write graffiti…a true Brooklyn kid.

So, yeah, I guess in the city of a million stories we have found one of a line cook dropout, a mercurial genius who still keeps a finger or two in the food world, but has the talent and capacity to do a whole lot more — doing our city the great service of keeping it interesting.

For Clifford’s most recent endeavor, check out the video of this marketing project 800lb Artists were recently commissioned to build for Newcastle Beer. A billboard unlike anything I’d seen before.