A chance encounter with a restaurant critic changed the course of Carlito Jocson’s life. The Yard House executive chef was then studying biochemistry at UCLA and planning to become a doctor, putting himself through school working in a restaurant kitchen.
One night, as he filled in for the chef in a pinch, the Los Angeles Times critic called Carlito to his table and told him: “Son, I understand you’re in school to become a doctor. I think you would make a lot more people happy feeding them rather than healing them,” Jocson recalled. “That was the quote that changed my life.”
Soon after, Carlito left college and helped found Yard House along with his former roommate Harald Herrmann and his partner, Steele Platt. Twenty years later, the brand known for great food, classic rock and its extensive beer selection has grown to 67 restaurant locations and Carlito still thrives as its top chef.
In 2015, he won the National Restaurant Association’s Diversity/American Dream Award, which honors people in the restaurant industry who have realized the American dream through hard work, determination and enterprise.
“Diversity means everything to me, and it also means nothing because to me, everyone is the same and equal,” he said. “I came to this country from the Philippines when I was 9 for the opportunity to do anything and be anybody I wanted. I am proof it is possible, especially in a company like this where the opportunities are limitless.”
Although he hasn’t been back to his native country, that will change soon. He plans a large family reunion next February at Rosa Farms, his grandmother’s old farm where he grew up, which has been converted from rice fields and cashew trees into a mango orchard. He is excited about connecting with family but also about reuniting with the family cook. “She carries the oral history of all the recipes I grew up with,” he said. He plans to create a recipe book for his family as an heirloom.
Carlito said nothing is more important to him than his wife, their four adult children and 5-month-old grandson, and his son-in-law. “I’m turning 50 this year. I’m less about taking risks and more about making sure I leave a legacy and make a difference. I live every day fully with energy and verve and a young heart.”