Chef Chat: Greg LaPrad, Quiessence

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It's hard to believe Greg LaPrad, executive chef and owner of Phoenix's farm-to-table sensation, Quiessence Restaurant & Wine Bar, almost didn't make it as a chef.

The 28-year-old, originally from Connecticut, got his start cooking weekend meals with his father when he was a kid, but his parents weren't too keen of his chef aspirations, instead encouraging him to hit the books.

"I think at the time, the idea of cooking wasn't really thought of as a lofty profession, not necessarily a good career choice," LaPrad says. "This was 15 years ago, so Food Network was very new then, so cooking wasn't as pop culture and exciting as it is today."

He headed to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida where he studied to become an airline pilot, but left after two years to attend culinary school in Rhode Island. Flight school was expensive, and after the events of September 11, 2001 negatively affected the airline industry, the decision to leave was easy, since LaPrad had been working in kitchens since he was 16.

"It's where my heart was," LaPrad says. "I enjoy the stress, the pace, the competitiveness. You never know everything as a chef, and every day, you're going to discover something new."

LaPrad came to Arizona in 2004 and started at Quiessence the next year. The restaurant's located at the Farm at South Mountain, and it utilizes only locally grown produce and meat.

The restaurant also employs a daily rotating menu, as well as a nightly six-course tasting menu, and LaPrad is always in the kitchen. He says Quiessence is a perfect fit for him, since he considers his specialty to be ingredient-driven dishes.

"We cook kind of naturally," LaPrad says. "We're really comfortable crafting dishes on the fly and merging different ingredients together that make sense."

For a recipe of LaPrad's Red Wine Braised Beef with Winter Squash "Mash" and Apple Gremolata, check back on Chow Bella tomorrow.

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