I didn’t originally set out to become a pastry chef. I worked on the savory side for ten years, and then one day, the chef I worked with suggested I look at the opening in the pastry shop of the restaurant, and I did. The pastry chef who hired me became a great mentor and friend. In addition to teaching me the craftsmanship behind pastry, he taught me how to behave in the kitchen.
One thing I’ve learned early on as a pastry chef is the importance of listening. Once, when I was a young pastry cook, the timer went off on the kitchen oven and I walked over to see what was inside. I heard the assistant pastry chef say, “Don’t touch the damn oven,” but I didn’t listen. I opened up the door and I saw trays and trays of cream puffs that could have been ruined when I opened the oven. Luckily they weren’t, but I learned that when someone talks, you should just listen.
Since it can get very busy very quickly at Cucina Urbana, I like simple desserts. I don’t really have a favorite but I do love ice creams and sorbets, polenta cakes, and zeppola, which are like Italian donut holes. I’m not really a pie baker.
I learned how to cook from my mother, who was a great cook. My brother is a chef, too. We grew up in Imperial Beach, where I still live today with my wife and five kids. My 14-year-old daughter bakes cookies and my wife bakes all the bread we eat. I’m lucky I eat so well! When I cook at home, I like to make what my kids love, like meat on the grill and polenta.
1 cup chicken stock
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/4 cup yellow polenta (I use Golden Pheasant)
1–2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste
HOW TO DO IT
Combine the chicken stock, water, and milk in a large pot and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in the polenta. Bring to a slow simmer and cook for about 20–25 minutes until grains of polenta are soft. Whisk in butter and cheese, then season to taste. Feed to hungry kids.