Meet the chef who lives in a micro-apartment 'so small you can't gain weight once you move in'

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Grayson Altenberg 6452Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider

Fresh from Madison, Wisconsin, chef Grayson Altenberg is overjoyed to have found a studio apartment he can afford in pricey Manhattan.

The average rent for a studio in New York City, as of this March, was $2,108 per month. Altenberg's rent is $1,100.

There's just one catch — at 100-square-feet, it's one of New York's smallest apartments.

The young chef chose the Upper West Side apartment without windows or a kitchen because it's a five-minute walk to the fine dining restaurant where he works.

"I had the option to go West, but there were more opportunities here in New York," he says of the move to the East Coast. "I sacrificed an entire life to be here, to make this happen. I left friends [and] family all behind in Wisconsin ... an entire life that I just picked up and left."

Grayson Altenberg 6087Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider

Once in New York, Altenberg worked in different kitchens as an unpaid intern. He says the chef world is a lot like a fraternity, which helped him land a job under chef Jonathan Benno at the Michelin-starred Lincoln Ristorante.

"I just showed up at the door and was like, 'Hey, I'm willing to work for free today.'"

After that day was over, Chef Benno hired him. And then, before he could get famous for his craft, he got famous for his tiny apartment. "The Village Voice found me," he says.

Indeed, the paper posted a story and video tour of the apartment — advertised in the listing as being "so small you can't gain weight once you move in" — to its website and it was picked up by the New York Post, the Today show's website, and numerous real estate blogs.

"Even though it was not a great opportunity, I still used it to give myself some press, so the world can see that I am here to make it at all costs. I'm not going to back down. I'm not going to let anybody tell me I'm not going to make it," says Altenberg.

He describes Central Park as the living room of his studio apartment and says cooking on a hot plate doesn't bother him, since he has Lincoln's giant kitchen at his disposal.

Grayson Altenberg 6216Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider

As for his typical day, for a 2 p.m. to midnight shift, Altenberg wakes up around 9 a.m., prepares breakfast, and sharpens his knives for an hour. He then walks three blocks to Equinox, which he treats a second home, where he works out, showers, shaves, uses the Internet, and enjoys the café.

His schedule is the same for 7 a.m. shifts, except the alarm goes off at four and coffee replaces breakfast. But he doesn't skip the gym. "I'm the kind of person that needs to work out before I go in, get the blood flowing ... I really like to be warmed up and ready to go when I hit the kitchen."

At Lincoln, Altenberg does everything from butchery and cleaning animals to taking care of vegetables. But one of his favorite things to do is teach. "Cooking is always learning and teaching, so as soon as you learn something, you should teach it to someone else."

He works 10-hour shifts five days a week, and plans to take on more hours during the busy seasons to get up to a 60-hour workweek.

Grayson Altenberg 6103Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider

"It's hard to be the new kid on the block. I came into New York and I didn't really make a quiet entrance — I definitely came in loud. I made a lot of noise, and that gave a lot of people a lot of ammunition to make fun of me for [things] like my living situation."

Altenberg still has his can-do, Midwest attitude, but now it's combined with the drive and hustle of a newly minted New Yorker.

This is his time to discover who he is and what kind of cuisine he wants to bring into the world.

"I want to travel, that's the next step in the plan."

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