Why did I become a chef? From the first taste I got of the restaurant business at age 15, washing dishes at Mondo’s Restaurant in Roseville, Michigan, I was hooked. As I watched the kitchen staff work their magic amidst rattling pots and pans, shouted commands, smoke and flames, and incredible smells, I knew I wanted to be a part of that world. The next step, after what seemed like an interminable period of saving, planning and waiting, was culinary school. It was my luck that I lived near Schoolcraft College, and that I had started my application process early on, since there was a three-year wait to enter its acclaimed and highly competitive culinary arts program. It was also fortunate that my appetite for learning everything I could about cooking turned out to be just as voracious as my appetite for food had always been.
After graduation, I worked at a series of restaurants around the country for several years, from ethnic eateries to steakhouses, hotel kitchens, country clubs and fine dining establishments. I apprenticed with some of the best chefs in America, including Paul Prudhomme in New Orleans, learning new skills at each station and growing hungrier for even more knowledge of my chosen profession. My love affair with chocolate began when I took my first course at the famous Cacao Berry School of Chocolate in Pennsauken, New Jersey. Many other courses followed, each one more advanced. It was there that I learned to temper, enrobe and mold chocolate, to decorate with it, to make truffles, ganaches, desserts, centerpieces and garnishes. Being able to combine my love of cooking and my love of chocolate through Phil’s on Front is pure joy.
My goal is to serve the best possible food and make the menu as interesting as possible. Fresh, local, sustainable and organic have unfortunately become overused buzz words in the food industry, but with my cooking, I am I committed to giving them back their true sense. Fresh food is a given – I would never settle for anything less. But whether that fresh food is local or flown in the same day from the East or West Coast depends on availability, seasonality and quality. I will always try to buy the products I need from local or regional suppliers first. The same goes for organic ingredients. But if I can’t get what I need or enough of what I need – or if the quality is not up to my standards – I will look further afield. The truck driver from California needs a job, too. And as for sustainability, if someone is farming or fishing sustainably in another state, do we snub him just because he is not doing it within 50 miles of us? It all comes down to common sense and practicality. You can get good, healthy food from many sources.
The fish we serve at Phil’s on Front is caught with sustainable practices, that the fruits and vegetables we serve – whatever their geographic origin – are not genetically engineered in any way, and that our meats and poultry are free-range, grain-fed and raised without growth hormones. Why do we insist on this? Not because it’s a popular trend, but because they simply taste better and are better for you!
I put my personality and my passion into my food. The “giving” aspect is very important to me. And though I’ve been cooking professionally for nearly four decades now, my passion for what I do just keeps growing. New ideas and creativity are as strong as ever, as is my commitment to bringing people together for great food and fellowship.