Cafe Society

Dave Lindberg, exec chef of Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria, on the magic of mayo

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Lindberg graduated from the kitchen as a sous chef before taking off to the Cayman Islands for a change of scenery. "I was planning to stay for thirty days, and on day 29, I got a job and wound up cooking down there for four years," says Lindberg, who was there when Hurricane Ivan devastated the islands, leaving him with little more than his flip-flops and the shirt on his back. "It was a war zone. Everything was destroyed, so I spent another month helping people out, and then I had no choice but to leave."

He ended up in Palm Springs, where he cooked at a French restaurant before an opportunity arose to open a new restaurant in the desert. But the unbearable heat ultimately beat him down. He'd heard that Denver had an up-and-coming food scene -- and a better climate -- so he scooped up his knives and moved to the Mile High City in 2008, landing a job at the DIA Marriott, where he managed to squeak out a year. "It was the closest place to my apartment, but it was the unhappiest cooking year of my life," he admits. "Everything was ordered and thrown on a sheet pan and pushed into the oven. It was horrible."

Lindberg left to work on the line at Oceanaire, cooking alongside exec chef Matt Mine for nearly a year before he got wind that Luca d'Italia was hiring a pasta cook. "A friend told me about the job, and even though I didn't know squat about making pasta, I showed up and they gave me a stage," says Lindberg. "At the end of the night, I knew that I really wanted to work there, and I was super-lucky: They hired me on the spot, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. It changed my life."

He'd go back to Washington once more, lured by promises of ownership -- and lots of money -- from a former employer. But six months into it, he realized that "the bastard was full of shit."

Frank Bonanno, who owns Luca, had warned him that he was making a mistake, and Lindberg admits he should have listened. After ditching the "bastard," he got back into a kitchen rolling pasta, and then came the call: "I had gotten my head on straight and was working at an Italian restaurant in Seattle when Frank called and said that he was opening a new pizza place and wanted to know if I'd come back and be the chef," recalls Lindberg. A month later, he was back in Denver. "I have no regrets. I love Frank, and he gave me another amazing opportunity," says Lindberg, who in the following interview confesses to a preoccupation with mayonnaise and white bread, advises Lone Tree suburbanites to embrace crudo, and pleads for more competitions that praise the pig.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson