“I love pork belly as much as the next guy.”
  • “I love pork belly as much as the next guy.”
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Croce's

802 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego

(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)

When I was 15, I had a job in a French restaurant in Upstate New York. I was washing dishes and making salads, but I was taught the proper technique. That experience really showed me what was possible with food. I went on to college, but I had no focus, so I moved to Orlando with my sister because I didn’t have anything else going on.

Because I loved to cook, I walked into the HR office at Disney with very little experience and talked my way into a position as a line cook. At 18, I was thrown into the high-stress world of professional cooking world. All the chefs tried to get me to quit, which is to say they made my life miserable. However, I hung in there, and the same chef who made my life hell eventually took me under his wing, made me lead cook, and recommended me for the Disney Culinary Apprentice Program. I am at my best when I’m in over my head, and that’s pretty much what a chef needs to do. Even now, there are months and weeks where we’re shorthanded and there’s a convention in town, and I’m not sure how I’m going to pull it off, but I know I will.

After Disney I worked in several high-end restaurants before I followed my sister once again to San Diego. I applied at Croce’s and hit it off with Ingrid [Croce] right away. She and I share a lot of the same philosophies about food. We just finished creating a cookbook together called Photographs and Memories: Recipes from Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar [Avalanche Publishing], which will be available this fall.

When I cook, I keep it simple and healthy. I love pork belly as much as the next guy, but I’m an avid cyclist and outdoor person, so when I’m home, I’m usually grilling. It’s the easiest way to cook healthy without making too big of a mess. We do a rotisserie chicken on the grill with salad and rice. I’ve made it so much it’s now on the menu at Croce’s and in our cookbook as well.

INGREDIENTS

Serves 4 to 6

ROASTED CHICKEN

  • 2 (4-pound) whole chickens
  • 1/4 cup fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh thyme, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

QUINOA PILAF

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup carrot, diced small
  • 1/4 cup celery, diced small
  • 1/4 cup yellow onion, diced small
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

HOW TO DO IT

Prep the grill or oven: Preheat a rotisserie grill on medium high for 15 minutes or oven to 400°F.

Remove the necks and giblets from chickens and stuff each with equal parts rosemary, thyme, garlic, kosher salt, and peppercorns. Coat the outside of the chickens with olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. On the grill, place the chickens on the rotisserie spit with the burner on medium high — your temperature gauge should read between 350°F and 400°F. With the grill lid closed, roast the chickens for about 90 minutes or bake in the oven for 60 to 90 minutes, until they are golden brown and their internal temperature reaches 160°F.

Remove the chickens from the grill or oven and let rest for 15 minutes before cutting each chicken half.

Make the quinoa. In a medium saucepan, bring chicken stock and quinoa to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook covered for 15 to 20 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed and grain is tender. In a separate pan over medium heat, sauté carrot, celery, onion in olive oil until tender. Toss with quinoa and season to taste. Serve chicken with quinoa pilaf and Greek spinach salad.

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