Greg LaPrad Dishes on the Ghost at Quiessence and Gives a Hilarious Answer to the Last Meal on Earth Question
Greg LaPrad seated at the wine bar at Quiessence.
This is part two of my interview with Greg LaPrad, chef-owner of Quiessence and Morning Glory Cafe. If you missed part one, where LaPrad gave negative "foodies" a serious tongue-lashing, read it here.
Your favorite cuisine and why: East Coast Italian-American. It's what I grew up eating: spaghetti and meatballs, Parmesans, piccata, Marsala, scaloppine.
Weirdest thing you ever ate: In Nairobi, Kenya, I ate at a restaurant called Carnivore and tried giraffe, zebra, hartebeest (African antelope). I had half the Serengeti in me. Definitely weird.
Winter squash soup with smoked duck breast, bread pudding croutons and meringue
If your cooking were a genre of music, what would it be?: The blues, because the music is real, honest and has a deep sense of place.
Your most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: I was working the pantry station at Michael's at the Citadel shortly after starting there. I was making the soup for the restaurant and had the freedom to make whatever I wanted. That day I decided to make a fennel-orange soup. Unfortunately, not thinking, I made my base by squeezing fresh oranges and simmering them in my soup stock. It was a huge mistake and turned into a bitter mess. It still haunts me to this day.
What really turns you off when you're dining at a restaurant? Honestly, I'm not a picky diner. I'd really only be offended at an obvious lack of sanitation. Every restaurant has a niche and a market that works for them. If it doesn't work for me, I simply won't return. To each their own.
Name one of your favorite places to dine in Phoenix and briefly explain why: My favorite place to dine is at my home. After being in and around a restaurant all week, my wife's cooking is very welcome. I do, however, have a lot of respect for local chefs Chris Bianco and Kevin Binkley. Both possess unbelievable culinary minds.
Wine glasses and barrel-aged cocktails near Q's entrance
Name a national/international chef you greatly admire and explain why: Charlie Trotter. He mastered, as well as anyone could, exceptional food, service, ambiance and wine. That's extremely difficult to do. Books such as Lessons in Service and Lessons in Excellence that give a glimpse into this man's wisdom are well worth reading. Most unbelievable and also admirable was his ability to walk away from it all this past year to study philosophy and travel with his wife.
Favorite thing to eat growing up: Veal Parmesan at Rom's. The restaurant was there for over 50 years and made an incredibly good tomato sauce that they also sold to go. Trying to reverse engineer that sauce was an early reason I got into cooking.
Favorite thing to eat now: Summer tomatoes, burrata cheese, wood-fired pizza, fresh shellfish, perfectly roasted beef, crispy skinned duck, roasted peppers, pasta and noodles, sautéed mushrooms, buttery whipped potatoes, spring ramps, ceci beans and blue cheese.
What's your guilty pleasure?: Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream and driving a truck with a V-8 engine (sorry Sam Pillsbury, I'll make it up to the earth, I promise).
Has your cooking or your philosophy about cooking evolved since you've been at Quiessence? Explain: Yes, of course. I was a young chef when I started here with a lot to learn. Chef Tony Andiario and I have worked together here at Quiessence from 2006 and have had countless discussions on food philosophy and the right direction for the cuisine of Quiessence. We've made mistakes and also had many successes; it has been quite the journey.
LaPrad picking grapefruit in Q's front yard
What do you enjoy most about working in fine dining?: The challenge. You're delivering an experience every night to people celebrating life's milestones. The pressure is high, and you have to bring it every night in order to be successful.
Does changing the menu so frequently have its downside? If so, what?: Honestly, no, not at this restaurant. Quiessence is a place that embodies an idea, an idea that a small restaurant on a farm could serve hyper-seasonal, mostly local product to our guests. A menu that changes fulfills the promise to the mission we're charged with.
Rustic or elegant or both? How would you describe your cooking style?: How about ever evolving but grounded in sound classical French technique and ardent food philosophical belief?
How important are your relationships with local farmers/ranchers/food artisans?: Incredibly important. They're making us look good. We're forever grateful for the relationships we've forged.
The setting at the farm is beautiful, but do you ever feel at a disadvantage, not being in a dining hub like Old Town or Central/Camelback?: Yes, at times. You have to take the good with the bad though. The setting here is part of the experience. You can't duplicate that authentically on Camelback or in Old Town. We have some great customers who love dining with us on the farm. We treasure their support tremendously.
Have diners changed since you began your career?: Sure. An increasing number of people have new dietary ideals. We now have guests nightly who don't want to or can't eat gluten, or dairy, or fish, or animal products. It's our job to accommodate everyone.
Cozy private dining room at Quiessence
What people don't know about Q is: Some past employees honestly believe they have seen a benevolent spirit here in the restaurant. We tell the ghost stories to new recruits late at night as we're cleaning up after dinner service.
What does Q does better than anyone else?: Sit outside on a cool night at our brick oven and I believe we can deliver a wholly unique dining experience on par with anything else in the world.
What people don't know about you is: A lot and I intend to keep it that way! I'm actually a pretty quiet person who hates being the center of attention (exception made for Ms. Buchanan, one of this city's great food writers.)
Name a culinary mentor and explain what you learned from that person: Pat Christofolo. She's a natural leader, who confidently surrounds herself with talented people and has a deft understanding of the F&B industry. I came to Pat knowing I could cook, but she helped me learn how to run a business and manage people. I'm grateful for the belief she had in me, and thankful for all the mentoring, support and advice she has given me over the years.
Last meal on earth -- what would it be: I'll probably be in a hospital, dying, hardly able to swallow, with a feeding tube in me. I'd like Chef or Dr. Binkley to come in my room with a big cup of his foie gas shake and pour it down my feeding tube, because why not, that's the way to go.
What should be written on your head stone?:I did it my way.
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Joshua Johnson of Kai Todd Sicolo of T.Cooks Josh Riesner of Pig & Pickle Lester Gonzalez of Cowboy Ciao M.J. Coe of Federal Pizza Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles
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