"I grew up in Redding, California, pretty much a small rural town back in the day, cooking anything and everything my family could muster up through hunting, including tree squirrel, rabbit and rattlesnake (elk was the best), but my true fascination for food would be ignited when I had my first-ever fine-dining experience at the age of 17. One of the most heralded destinations on the West Coast is The Sardine Factory in Monterey, and it was there I would meet and be inspired for a life-long journey of all things culinary by Chef Bert Cutino. I would then take the next step of pursuing a professional career by following my mentor Corporate Chef George Goodrich to Bakersfield, CA to open and develop the fine dining and banquet/catering programs for the Red Lion Hotel chain, completing my ACF Apprenticeship Program.
I have so many experiences and tales over the years since those humble beginnings, but there are definitely some that are much more vivid in my mind, such as working side by side and soaking in the tales and wisdom of many ACF Certfied Master Chefs such as Roland Henin, Raimund Hofmesiter, Edward Leonard, Ferdinand Metz and Michele Richard. I remember dining at Trotter's, the breathtakingly elegant cuisine and masterful amenities, and then the rich conversations with Chef Charlie Trotter down in his kitchen after hours with his staff. From him I garnered my understanding of "Attention to Detail" and he encouraged me that "After love, there is only cuisine." Back across the continent, as a year-end bonus, I would treat my ACF apprentices to sharing a meal at Chef Thomas Keller's French Laundry in Yountville, CA. It was there that I began experiencing a true respect for all ingredients as he would press on that, "It's all about Finesse", and I won't forget what it says above the clock in the kitchen "Sense of Urgency".
I have been mentored by many of the greats in the industry, and I have been so honored to be a part of the orchestration and cooking and plating for some of the most highly elevated dinners, including events and fundraisers held at the Robert Mondavi Food & Wine Center in Costa Mesa, Spago in Beverly Hills and Hollywood Park Racetrack and Casino. One of the most detailed dinners was a tribute to White House Chef Henry Haller in Las Vegas at the annual fundraiser for The Meadows School. I would also spend many hours studying the intricacies and nuances of wines around the world and the art of wine pairing with Sommelier and Chef Sal Campagna, former franchise chef for the San Francisco 49ers. I also remember the opportunity of writing the summer menu for the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite and cooking a VIP dinner with Chef Greg Cole for Dr. Robert Sinskey.
Possibly the most memorable experience for earning a position on Team California to compete in the International Culinary Olympics (IKA). For twelve years, training alongside Team California founder, Executive Chef Brad Toles, traveling to Germany 3 times and receiving 3 Team Medals as a part of Team California, 1 gold and 2 silver. But most of all, none will compare to the day that I proposed to my wife, Christa. As we sat in a Napa vineyard overlooking Silverado Trail at sunset, I presented her with a German Chocolate Cake with a diamond ring tucked away inside. She said yes, and now I have a partner in life who shares my love for the art of cuisine and understands that it is much more than just having a kitchen full of cookbooks. It is hard work, it is persistence, it is detailed, it is fast-paced and relentless, always reaching for yet another level higher."