Not everyone has the same mindset as a chef. What we might think is common sense, isn’t usually very common.
Patrons don’t always like what they read on the menu. Special instructions and requests are commonplace in any restaurant. Chefs will usually accommodate until the integrity of their dish is compromised.
12-hour days are what is normal when you’re a chef. After a while, you get used to the hours. As my wife says, #cheflife.
As part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dan Rossi.
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Chef Dan Rossi brings a wealth of talent and passion for food that dates back to his early childhood to The Stirling Club’s culinary program. With Italian roots, food was always central to his family’s way of life. At a young age Rossi would spend time in the kitchen, watching and helping his grandmother cook rustic Italian cuisine. He loved it so much that he began his career at Stancato’s, a popular Italian restaurant. From there, Rossi graduated high school and took his boss’ advice to attend culinary school in Pennsylvania. After graduating culinary school, Rossi was lucky enough to work with many of the country’s most notable chefs including Alex Stratta, David Burke, Jean Joho, Scott Conant, Claude Rodier, and Vincent Guerithault to name a few. Rossi has worked at multiple noteworthy restaurants in Las Vegas including Eiffel Tower Restaurant, Scarpetta, Rose. Rabbit. Lie., Restaurant Alex, and most recently spent three years as the assistant executive chef at Red Rock Resort & Casino.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?
As I was starting my career, I always liked art but I realized that it might not be as prosperous as I’d once thought. When I started working in the restaurant industry, food was considered art! I thought wow, I can cook great food and express my artistic interests through the presentation of my dishes. Building a foundation in culinary school and learning the history of culinary arts was interesting and inspiring. I was very fortunate to work for a French chef at a great restaurant once I graduated. Chef Claude Rodier at Sans Souci was instrumental in educating me and showing me how they work in Europe. The passion for their work, their work ethic and focus is intense. The attention to detail and choosing quality over quantity is something that has stuck with me until this day.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
Italian runs in my blood as I’m of Italian descent and was raised in an Italian household. Cooking Italian food just comes naturally for me, although I did go to culinary school and was classically trained. As a teen I was a huge car buff and always dreamed of having a classic muscle car, so I started working at the young age of 13 so I could earn enough money to buy my own car. My first job was at a little Italian restaurant right up the street from my parents house. I used to go visit my best friend who was a dishwasher at the restaurant and we would drool over the owner’s cars. There were three brothers that ran the business and they each had a different taste in cars. The oldest brother used to reach in his pocket, pull out a roll of cash and peel off a c-note for me to wash their three cars and sometimes a Harley. I would wash and wax them, taking pride in how great I made them look. When I was done I would go inside the restaurant to BS with my friend. I’d help him finish washing the dishes and take out the trash and eventually I was there so much that they decided to hire me as a dishwasher. I was always working fast so I could finish early and hang out with the cooks and chefs. They used to use me as a gofer, sending me to get parsley and pick the leaves, or asking me to do their prep work, but I didn’t mind because I was busy, learning new things, and making my own money. Back then I was making 3.25 dollars per hour and I thought wow, look at how much money I’m making! I eventually moved up to be a prep cook, then a pizza cook, then I earned a spot on the line. I loved working in this restaurant because it was rustic Italian food and resonated with me because it reminded me of hanging out in the kitchen at my grandma’s house where I would watch her cook and be the taste tester.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
At one of my previous jobs, the chef liked to “tip the bottle” pretty early in the day. He would get a little squirrely and walk into the guys on the line with ripping hot pans. Needless to say, some of us got burned. There were times that we would pass out and we would pick him up and throw him in one of the offices to sleep it off while we finished dinner service. The lesson I learned from this was to never drink on the job, and because of this I don’t drink that much in general.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
Every journey starts out with obstacles and it’s really all about how you choose to navigate them. For me it was understanding and accepting how low the pay was when I entered the food and beverage industry. Due to the low wages for the entry level positions, most people need to work two jobs until a better opportunity is created or presented to them.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
Luck! It’s funny that most chefs have a dish on the menu that they just love and can’t wait to make, until they get some feedback only to find out that it was a dud and the guests didn’t embrace it the way they had envisioned it. It really depends on the kind of food you are making and in what environment. I tend to like textural contrast, something that has a little crunch involved like adding seasoned breadcrumbs to finish off a pasta or crusting a fish. I love cooking fish with the skin on or by taking the skin off and making a chicharron with it for a garnish.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
At the end of the day, most chefs are pretty simple. I like thick cut applewood smoked bacon with a bowl of hot rice topped with a fried egg, seasoned with furikake that has bonito in it! Growing up in the midwest, I still love steak. Ribeye is my chosen cut, but I could also eat sushi everyday of my life. More recently, I’ve loved cooking at home for my family and for special occasions. Being able to create rustic menus with dishes like a roasted chicken cooked on a can of beer of Dr. Pepper, spatchcocking a chicken and cooking it over a bed of marble potatoes with ranch seasoning, or marinating steaks and grilling them outside. A perfect meal for me lately is just one that I can spend with my family. Lately my kids have really loved when I make pizza dough and create a pizza bar for them where they can pick all of their own toppings and make it themselves.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
I have a decent cookbook collection and look through them often for inspiration. I have everything from Thomas Keller, Marco Pierre White, Alain Ducasse, Robuchon, Charlie Trotter, Mama Agata, the Culinaria books, as well as all of the recipe books from my mentors, Alex Stratta and Scott Conant. For me, it’s a process. I try my best to cook with the seasons by looking at what is available and then go from there.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
Here at The Stirling Club, I’m currently working on a Sunday family feast concept. Sunday Sugo or Sunday Gravy. It’s a complete traditional Italian Sunday meal. It’s something that’s a little different than the regular service that is offered in the club. For this Sunday meal, the entire meal, except the dessert, will be served at the same time, family style. The server will roll a cart up to the table and make each guests’ plate tableside. Similar to a family feast, from our Stirling Club family to theirs.
What advice would you give to other chefs or restauranteurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
My recommendation is to find a hobby that doesn’t involve food. I’m a golf addict personally. I enjoy everything about the game, history, courses, equipment, clothes, and knowledge of the swing. For me, it’s a 4–5 hour escape where I am focused on the task at hand and not distracted by emails or work. Of course my buddies all always ask about food though!
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Not everyone has the same mindset as a chef. What we might think is common sense, isn’t usually very common.
- Patrons don’t always like what they read on the menu. Special instructions and requests are commonplace in any restaurant. Chefs will usually accommodate until the integrity of their dish is compromised.
- 12-hour days are what is normal when you’re a chef. After a while, you get used to the hours. As my wife says, #cheflife.
- You don’t get to spend the holidays with your family. The older that I get, the more important family time becomes. Most holidays chefs are creating incredible holiday experiences and memories for their guests, but there is usually minimal time to be able to do the same for your own family.
- Time management is key. One of the biggest challenges I have is with time management. There never seems to be enough time in the day and there is a constant battle to maintain a work/life balance and make time for your family. It’s tough, but I’m lucky enough to have an understanding wife who makes it all much easier.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
For anyone coming to The Stirling Club for a meal, you definitely need to try the pasta. Either the spaghetti pomodoro or one the raviolis one the menu. I was very fortunate to work for a lot of great chefs over the years and two of them made exceptional pasta! Alex Stratta taught me very refined rich pastas, while Scott Conant’s still was more bold and rustic, but clean.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Whatever you decide to do for a living or career, be PASSIONATE! Find something that you love to do and excel at it. Don’t just choose a career for the paycheck. Do something that will make you happy and feel fulfilled.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!