He saw quite a few movies (among other things) when he was sixteen, and he also began to take a liking to life in the kitchen. "I was throwing pies at this Italian restaurant in Littleton, and it didn't seem like a real job, because I didn't have to sit in an office all day long -- and I was still getting paid," recalls Chiappetta. Cooking was like playing sports, something he'd always been heavily involved in: "I'd been playing sports my whole life, and cooking was sort of the equivalent to that, because it's all about teamwork -- and at the end of the night, it's like, cool, we did it."
He was cooking at the long-gone Pasta's when, after four years of playing with dough, the chef told him to get out. But not because Chiappetta got his ass fired. "The chef said that I was really good at cooking and that I should go get a job where I could really learn the ropes," he remembers. Chiappetta took his advice, bumping around a few other kitchens before he ended up where most cooks -- those who sling dough, at least -- don't: at the Palace Arms, where "I was doing this, that and everything else," he says.
His girlfriend lived a block away from a new place that chef/restaurateur Sean Kelly was opening, Aubergine Cafe, and that news compelled Chiappetta to bang on Kelly's door. Incessantly. "Every day for what must have been a month, I went and rapped on the door," he remembers. And his determination paid off. "Kelly finally called and asked me to come down, and when I got there, he gave me a case of onions, potatoes and a whole bag of carrots to brunoise," says Chiappetta, who spent the next several days nursing his calluses. "I couldn't feel my hands for three days."
Kelly hired him as a grill cook at Aubergine, where he stayed for a year while attending culinary school at the Colorado Institute of Art, until Kelly encouraged him to push himself further. "This job was a huge part of my cooking life, and Sean's cooking was so clean and honest and in tune with the seasons, but he told me that he'd taught me all he could and suggested that I go work for Kevin Taylor, who was just opening Brasserie Z downtown," remembers Chiappetta, who adds that he kept every single one of Kelly's menus from his tenure at Aubergine. He did time on the line at Brasserie Z, where he worked alongside Sean Yontz, until Taylor, who was opening Palettes at the Denver Art Museum, asked if he wanted to run the kitchen there. "I wasn't ready to be an executive chef, so I went over as a sous chef," he says. And then Chiappetta walked out: "Kevin asked me to take a pay cut, and that was it -- I left."