Life Is A String Of Opportunities
If Tyson Greenwood ’97 had only one piece of advice for his fellow Avonians, it would be ‘always be open to new opportunities.’ And, after hearing his story, we tend to agree that it certainly has been an approach to life that works for him.
To understand the true extent to which Tyson embodies that line of advice, it’s important to start at the beginning. For us, the beginning is when Tyson decided to join the community at Avon Old Farms.
As a graduate of Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, N.H., Tyson enrolled at Portsmouth Abbey School in Portsmouth, R.I. But, in his own words, Tyson ‘wasn’t a fan’ and it was then that the idea of Avon Old Farms School was presented to him by the one and only Frank Leavitt '52, P'76, GP'15.
“My family knew Frank from his connections to Cardigan Mountain, and when Portsmouth wasn’t working out, he recruited me to Avon,” Tyson explained. “I was immediately thrilled to be at Avon. As a kid from a small town in New Hampshire, I was already an outdoorsy type, but at Avon there was a structure to living in nature that I hadn’t encountered before that was rewarding. The academics were more of what I was looking for, too.”
Tyson quickly made friends at Avon, and a tight-knit crew formed. He played soccer, hockey, and lacrosse. He joined the Nimrod Club, and even was one of four lucky students who showed up for a Nimrod crew the morning Pete Seeger ’36 decided he’d like to return to his Nimrod days to split some wood. He formed bonds with mentors including Mr. Crocker, Mr. Rice, Mr. Mac, and Coach Garber. In all, Avon seemed to be a home away from home, and Tyson was doing well for himself.
Upon graduation, Tyson chose to enroll at Roanoke College in Va. to study history and minor in French. But, after two years, Tyson realized that continuing his college career was a rather uninspiring prospect, and decided to make a change. He started inquiring with some semi-pro soccer teams, because, why not? After emailing several teams begging to let him play, clubs in Switzerland and Ireland finally agreed to let him join their ranks. So, off to Europe he went.
“It turns out that semi-pro soccer doesn’t pay well, so I began working at night in a variety of restaurants,” Tyson explained. “I had washed dishes at Cardigan Mountain and worked during the summers at a local restaurant. One year, immigration officers showed up and took a line cook away. I was there, so I filled the spot. So when I needed a night gig in Europe, cooking was the easy decision.”
After a couple of years bouncing around Europe, semi-pro soccer wasn’t taking off, and Tyson decided to return to the United States. He moved back to Roanoke, Va., but as a young person not enrolled in the local college, it seemed that the area was even duller than he recalled.
“I stayed in Virginia for six months cooking and saving money,” he said. “Then, because Greyhound was offering this ‘$89 go as far as you can’ special, I got on a bus, and took it as far as I could: to California.”
Once there, you guessed it, Tyson got into some restaurants. He enrolled at the University of San Francisco and worked nights putting himself through school. After a semester, Tyson realized that his passion wasn’t anything he’d learn inside a classroom. He was supposed to be in a kitchen.
“At that time, there weren’t that many cooks who had European restaurant experience on their resume, which opened a lot of doors,” he explained. “I began working in Michelin 2- and 3-star kitchens, and was very focused on that style of cuisine.”
Tyson explained that it’s traditional in the restaurant business to spend a year or two at one establishment, learning all you can, before looking for the next opportunity to grow a new skill set. At first, he worked at Masa’s in San Francisco for two years.
Then, he heard some guy was doing something pretty edgy at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, so he gave his notice and went to work for him. But, the guy who he was to work for was all of a sudden gone. So, Tyson was without a job and scurried to find an opening with a chef he hadn’t heard of before: James Syhabout.
“Soon, he was getting a ton of press as a Michelin star chef, and then wanted to do his own thing, so he left, and the owners gave me his job as executive chef,” he said. “I took the position, but I was overwhelmed and unhappy. I called James, who was back at Manresa as their interim Chef de Cuisine. He said, ‘come work here,’ so I did.”
Next, he went to work with Dominique Crenn, a French chef and the only female chef in America to attain three Michelin stars for her restaurant.
In 2009, he went with Michelin 3-Star French chef Pierre Gagnaire to Las Vegas to open Twist in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Tyson wasn’t a fan of Vegas and returned to the Napa Valley to work with another Manresa alum, Jeremy Fox. He began working in the Tyler Florence Group of restaurants, and within six months was made culinary director.
“It was a lot of publicity, a lot of travel—I was doing cooking demos for crowds of 30,000 people,” Tyson shared. “It was a little exhausting, and after two years, I was once more looking for something different. And that’s when Apple called.”
Yes, Apple as in Apple computers. In 2012, Tyson received a job offer to be a chef at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. He worked primarily as the chef for the executives, including Tim Cook and Jony Ive, and Apple’s board of directors.
“Working at Apple was incredibly elaborate,” he explained. “There were stations for each kind of food. I set cafes up all over the campus. Apple bought three fishing boats and crews, and whatever they caught that morning, we had to develop a dish out of.”
Then, once more, Tyson’s mentor called with another opportunity: five weeks; good pay; you’ll have to travel. When Tyson asked for more detail, Jeremy said, “It’s a yes or no.”
So, true to form, Tyson said yes. And he found himself on a 60-meter mega yacht sailing up the coast of Italy with a crew of 18. After the trip, the ship’s owner offered to move him to New York City to remain on the job as his ‘travel chef.’ Once more, Tyson agreed.
So, where is Tyson now?
“Still in New York.”
Who was he cooking for last month?
“UN Ambassador from the United Arab Emirates, and for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President of the UAE.”
Does Tyson realize how crazy his story is?
“Yeah, sometimes I’ll see the look on someone’s face when I’m telling a story, and I’ll realize what I’m saying is pretty out there.”
What are his next steps?
“I’m actually now going back for the undergrad degree I never finished. I’m enrolled at Harvard, studying photography with a Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer, shooting restaurant PR photography and cookbooks.”
What does he do for fun?
“I still play soccer a bit - pick up games mostly. I’m also big into cycling.” (He also ran the New York City Marathon.)
Does he recall the food at Avon?
“I actually can’t recall a single dish… But my favorite meal was during the Boar’s Head Festival.”
And finally, can he attribute any of this story to Avon?
“Yes. The general manners and structure on how to behave that were essential at Avon were instrumental in getting me to where I am today. Avon teaches appropriate ways to conduct yourself. I learned the value of a firm handshake. And because of that, I received better receptions from high-end clients because I am now able to navigate their world. Avon allowed me to step into their world, not be intimidated by it.”
So, we believe Tyson is a living example of taking advantage of every opportunity.
“I’d encourage Avonians always to be paying attention and aware when a strange opportunity comes up—and don’t be afraid to give it a go,” he said. “Maintain your contacts and friendships from every stop along your path. You never know when those will come into play. More times than I can count, someone I met randomly connected me to the next dot on my journey. I found my way into Apple because of that. One day I had a nice conversation with an unassuming man at a food and wine tasting; he was the executive chef at Apple who offered me a job.”
We’d welcome Chef Greenwood to cook in Avon’s kitchen anytime.