Pretty much at an early age, I caught the bug. I was fortunate enough to work for some chefs in California who were opening a restaurant in Milwaukee, and I remember the excitement and draw to learn about new ingredients. I remember being a young cook and writing down recipes. Then when I saw seafood that was beyond the Chinook salmon or perch out of Lake Michigan, I was fascinated by ingredients. The more I cooked, the more I wanted to learn more about ingredients. I really have a passion and love for being in the kitchen.
I like to think I’m an honest person. I’ve been able to grow through hard work and determination, honest about my craft and where I am as a professional, honest about the development I still have in front of me—I think that translates to a menu, and being true to who you are as a chef. It’s always been about being honest with my ingredients.
There have been so many trends, farm-to-table and local, and I think I never bought into those things. It was about learning how to raise ingredients. That’s why I bought a farm. It’s the fascination of seeing something going from a seed to cooking it to making someone happy about that experience. I think looking back and reflecting, I used to spend 90 hours a week in the Fruition kitchen. It was always just about the plate of food. I put so much effort and energy into creating a meal for people. But at a certain point 20 years in, I found myself not learning on a daily basis. There are only so many ways to cook a piece of fish. That can be exhausting, and that exhaustion led to wanting to find new ways to educate myself. Now, I have an opportunity to share that in Colorado.
The farm is just over ten years old. The whole farm-to-table movement came after that. Being in Colorado and moving here from California and not having those things accessible—not having a couple farmers markets to go every night, the lack of seeing produce. I’ve always had a love for gardening, and coming to Colorado I felt like I was missing something. That led to the farm. It’s very difficult, it’s a lot of effort and has given me a lot of appreciation for people’s ethics in raising food and the food system in general.
If more people really understood the value of food, our industry wouldn’t be in such chaos—the food industry in general. I think it’s important for a restaurant or chef to be an advocate for a food source. There’s a lot of farmers who aren’t doing very well. More and more small farmers are being squeezed out to larger operation, and it’s because the value of food hasn’t increased. Or at least people’s perception. It’s a tricky fence to walk across: being a chef who supports food, and being a chef who wants to supply accessible food.
I love Wisconsin. My whole family’s there. But the first time I had sushi was at age 23. I grew up with the Friday Night Fish Fry. And if you got popcorn shrimp, it wasn’t a bonus. So, it wasn’t exactly the food Mecca of the world. My upbringing with cheese was cheddar, summer sausage and Ritz crackers, and I felt that when I left 20 years ago. But there’s certainly been an excitement and revolution in food, and more people are curious about it. Things that are happening in Wisconsin today weren’t necessarily happening there back then. And then I just fell in love with Colorado.