Your success will not come without sacrifice. As a young chef I immersed myself into work. I gave up family functions and life events for my career. I don’t regret a single decision I made. My dedication to food and this industry has made me who I am today.
As part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Chef Christina Stanco.
Boasting eleven years of culinary experience, Executive Chef Christina Stanco of Central Kitchen + Bar graduated from Johnson & Whales University in Denver, CO with an Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts and a Bachelor’s Degree in Food Service Management. Over the course of her blossoming career, she has worked at establishments such as Destination Hotels and Resorts and the Ritz Carlton Denver. Stanco has also worked with several nationally-acclaimed Denver chefs in independently-owned, chef-run restaurants. Upon returning to Michigan, she accepted a position with Luxe Bar & Grill, a noted metro Detroit restaurant. Within a year, she was promoted to executive chef. Shortly thereafter, when the restaurant’s ownership began exploring locations beyond its Birmingham, MI base, she played an integral role in the opening of a successful second venue in Grosse Pointe, MI. Once the outpost opened, she maintained executive chef responsibilities for both locations, helping to grow the menu and audience for more than three years. Following her success at Luxe, she was hired to be part of the kitchen team that opened the Roberts Restaurant Group’s Café ML in Bloomfield Township, MI.
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 a high school student, I was part of a culinary competition and spent hours after school perfecting my entry of three different seafood dishes. I fell in love with how food is an art creation and knew that although the industry would be very different from anything I participated in during school, I would make this a career!
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?
French cuisine is definitely my main focus. When creating new menu items, I gravitate toward French-inspired dishes and am influenced by this cuisine. The skill and technique that’s involved with a classic French dish is truly unmatched.
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?
Over the past 12 years in this industry, there is a new lesson to learn. Almost everyday I say to myself, “now I have seen it all!” When I first entered the industry, the head chef I worked under at the time asked me to create a red wine demi sauce. He placed six bottles of wine in front of me and from there I poured into a pot. I reduced the wine so far down that the pot started catching on fire. I felt so bad that I had wasted six bottles of wine. Since that experience, I always set a timer!
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?
When first starting my career, it was a challenge as a woman to break through a very male-dominated industry. I found myself being intimidated and questioned myself often. Looking back, those experiences made me who I am today. I never let the intimidation of the kitchen get the best of me. Instead, I learned from those around me and applied those new skills to my chef practice.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
The key is to entice your customers with a memorable dish that they won’t want to recreate at home. Many of our repeat customers at Central Kitchen + Bar order items off the menu that they wouldn’t typically make at home. I want them to sit back, relax and savor each bite!
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
The perfect meal for me is pizza! I absolutely love it.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
I am inspired by reading inventive cookbooks, checking out other restaurants, and interacting and learning about my cooks favorite meals that their mothers made them growing up. All of this boosts my creativity!
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
Staying relevant in this industry is essential for growth. As we move toward the spring and summer seasons, I am finding inspiration to revamp Central Kitchen + Bar’s menu. I’m looking forward to sharing our new menu updates with our customers!
What advice would you give to other chefs or restauranteurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
Take a step back if you need to! When I first started my career, I thought if I wasn’t in my kitchen all day and night I would fail. As I got older, I realized that taking time for yourself, away from the kitchen, can revitalize you and boost creativity. Ultimately your staff will thank you for taking time for yourself so you can refocus each day.
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.
1. You will be more than a chef. Everyday I am a mentor, an inspiration and a role model to my staff. I’m a teacher and I take that job very seriously.
2. No two days are the same. Each day brings new challenges and rewards. I embrace each challenge that I am given and always learn something from them. Each reward is a blessing!
3. Your success will not come without sacrifice. As a young chef I immersed myself into work. I gave up family functions and life events for my career. I don’t regret a single decision I made. My dedication to food and this industry has made me who I am today.
4. You will learn something new every day. I teach my staff techniques and new recipes, but in turn they always teach me something. They have taught me patience and endless life lessons.
5. Your life will forever revolve around food! This is the best part — I go to sleep thinking about recipes and wake up thinking about how to make the restaurant better. Food and flavor is what makes everyday great!
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
The one dish I always recommend for customers to try (and is definitely one of our best sellers!) is the Calamari. The dish has snap peas, peppers, jalapeno, oranges, cashews, and topped with cilantro and sweet soy glaze — it’s a must try!
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.
Always remember to deliver acts of kindness to everyone you meet. People in the food industry and beyond can live very hectic lifestyles and sometimes kindness can be put on the back burner. This is my reminder to be kind to people and show empathy. I meet so many different people from all walks of life everyday. It’s important to take time to get to know one another and inspire and spread a kind attitude.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!