What specific requests would you ask of Denver diners? Be open to new dishes and restaurants. There are so many up-and-coming chefs, including myself, who are fresh and want to bring big things to the culinary scene in Denver. And while Denver is slightly behind the times when it comes to what's new, in the year and half that I've lived here, palates have evolved, and with chefs stepping out of their comfort food zone, so, too, will diners.
Weirdest customer request: I've gotten lots of crazy food allergy and vegan requests, but I'm Italian and a pastry chef, so I'm sorry, but I don't know how to cook vegan.
Worst dessert disaster: When I worked for Kevin Taylor as the executive pastry chef, I was in charge of creating desserts for all of his properties, which wasn't a problem except that my kitchen was in the basement area of the Hotel Teatro, and it was hotter than Hades. I had a couple of orders that kept going up in counts and there was always a huge lack of communication between all the kitchens, so to make a long story short -- and to save me the aggravation of recapping that shitstorm of a day -- nothing was going as planned. I had to do chocolate and spun sugar. The chocolate was fine, but the spun sugar disintegrated the moment it went on the sheet pan. I was like, screw this, get it out of my kitchen and move on to the next. That was the only time in my career where I hated what I was doing and I didn't give a damn anymore.
If you could train under any pastry chef in the world, who would it be? I'd love to work with Meadow Ramsey, my first pastry chef. She's definitely the reason why I strive so hard at what I do; she made amazing desserts that were so simple and so delicious.
If you had the opportunity to open your own restaurant with no budget constraints, what kind of restaurant would you open? I love fine dining and simplicity, and if I had the opportunity, I'd love to open a place that uses all local farms, from dairy to produce. There's pride in knowing that your guests are getting the best-quality products and that they come straight from your own back yard. I'd have fresh-baked breads, pastries and simple menu designs based around seasonal products. Most people want to just go out and have a great meal and not be put off by all the frou-frou extras; I just want a place where guests feel comfortable and enjoy the food in front of them.
Favorite culinary-related gift you've been given: A few years ago, an intern of mine, who still holds a special place in my heart, gave me a large whisk with an inscription that said, "To my chef. Let's make each other proud." Even though I was already a successful chef in Santa Monica, I always felt -- and still do feel -- that I have so many more things to learn and earn.
Favorite culinary-related item to give as a gift: Something personal and meaningful. Don't give a gift that isn't practical for that person. I love gifts, but there are quite a few stashed in my kitchen "catchall" drawer.