Monday, December 20, 2010

About Teresa

I'm a 28 year old New Mexico native turned Angelino. I'm ambitious, stubborn and passionate about my work. My first job in food was right after I dropped out of college in the summer of 2004 on an organic farm. I had no previous work experience, my job up until college was to dominate the local soccer league and get noticed by some collegiate scouts who would then, hopefully, fund another 4 years of soccer. My job in college was to play soccer and make decent enough grades to continue to play soccer which would then, hopefully, propel me into a professional soccer career where I would become a national celebrity and take off my shirt in front of an international audience after capturing a world cup title. My life's work and soccer career was smashed, crushed and shat upon by my college soccer coach(s) who found the need to destroy my self confidence and keep me warming their benches for three years. The farm, my first job, was a gorgeous fig ranch nestled in the hills of Malibu called Vital Zuman. I worked harvesting, weeding the grounds, building giant walls out of hay barrels, and setting up and selling produce. The owner of the farm was a big man named Allen who always wore headphones and therefore could not hear and only yelled. He gave me my tasks everyday and I mostly worked alone which helped me do some healing after my soccer career went down the toilet. Allen encouraged me to taste everything to make sure I knew it was ripe enough to pick. My pay was seven dollars an hour plus a bag of whatever I harvested that day. I became a major fig addict and fell madly in love with organic, local, and responsibly grown produce.

The farm spiked my curiosity for the food industry so I set out for culinary school. I signed my life away at The Art Institute of Los Angeles which led me to my first real restaurant job in the industry. I scored a position as a grill cook on the opening team at Tender Greens Culver City, a casual organic sandwich and salad concept. Here I worked elbow to elbow with James Beard Award winning Chef Erik Oberholtzer and co-owners Matt Lyman and David Dressler. These guys changed my life. I got a major ass kicking at Tender Greens. I had the opportunity to see beautiful product and feel good about serving an honest, delicious product while serving five times their projected volume straight out of the gate. There is hardly a day that goes by when I'm in the kitchen that I don't think of Erik or Matt and all they taught me.
In my classic fashion I became disenchanted with my job at Tender Greens and wanted to take the next step to a full scale restaurant. I came upon Ciudad of the Food Network duo Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. I forced myself onto their roster after dining at Ciudad for my birthday that year. Here I was hired as a pastry platter, which was annoying because the garde manger girl sucked and she knew I would have her job in a matter of months. I did, and moved on to learn as much as I could and push as hard as I knew how to push until I was able to run every station. When I could I was handed the "Paella on the Patio" gig, a weekly paella special which we cooked expo style. I loved this position, it gave me the opportunity to flex my creative muscles and score some brownie points with the upper management. After a year and a half and upon handing in my letter of resignation, I was promoted by the Director of Operations to Kitchen Manager at Mary Sue and Susan's modern mexican restaurant, Border Grill.
Border Grill afforded me the opportunity to learn more on the management side which I had no real experience. I worked hard and pushed to get up to speed with the other Kitchen Manager. I had a new found curiosity for the business itself and found myself following the GM around asking questions about food costs and shopping around for better produce and meat prices. I convinced the GM to sit with me once a week and teach me "the business", I called it Doug's school of restaurant management. I had not yet completed my courses at Doug's school before I was approached, once again, by the Director of Operations who offered me the opportunity to open and run the Border Grill Truck. As a young, eager beaver KM, the thought of running my own operation was a tasty one though I was not too thrilled it would be on a truck. Little did I know I was in for yet another ass kicking this time I was less willing to take it.
The Truck was an opportunity for me to collaborate with Susan and Mary Sue on the menu and once again show some of my talent. I was less thrilled when I met the operator of the Truck, Loretta Peng. Loretta was a scary, hard ass, MBA who made it clear from our first gig that she was not about to put up with a cocky little shit like me. Somehow, through all of carbon monoxide fumes on the truck we found some common ground...a love for the industry and especially a love for food. Loretta became my muse, my teacher, and my love on that truck. She pushed me professionally and personally like I've never been pushed. After the truck with the need for more and now a duo to be reckoned with, we set out for New York City.

Loretta knew the place so I felt I was in good hands. I had the romantic idea of working in a top notch kitchen under a brilliant chef and working my way through the NYC restaurant community. I landed a job at Jean George's new farm to table restaurant, ABC Kitchen. I was ready to soak it all up when Loretta's gig needed a chef in a bad way. I told Jean George thanks but no thanks and ended up diving head first into the project with Loretta. The restaurant Loretta was working on was a worker owned restaurant with a really compelling back story but unfortunately a ton of debt and burnt bridges. We had so much confidence in ourselves we didn't really stop to think that this place was dead to the food world and would never be resurrected. Instead, we rolled out a sexy small plates menu, hired a handful of amazing people and put ourselves out there. This was such an exciting experience for me as a young chef. I had complete control of where my food came from and ended up finding some amazing local, sustainable food vendors. My menu was simple, top quality ingredients with playful preparations and lots of flavor. If I learned anything from Susan and Mary Sue it was how to pull flavor out of just about anything. My menu was well received and flattering reviews were popping up all over the Internet. I felt validated and confident. The project unfortunately was underfunded and not supported properly by the owners and became a dead horse that I just wasn't into beating anymore. So back to LA it was....New York was too cold and stinky for me anyway.
So here we are, two passionate, insatiable people who just want to get it right and serve some really great food and do right by our staff, guests, and our community...we are both fiercely competitive, eager and ready...which to me sounds like the right ingredients to make a restaurant of our own.

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