"I'm not much of a jumper," chef Lester Gonzalez will tell you if you ask how (and why) he has stayed at the corner of Stetson and Sixth Avenue in Scottsdale for more than a decade. Okay, to be fair, he did stray around the corner for two years to work in the kitchen at Kazimierz World Wine Bar, but that hardly counts because the two restaurants are owned by the same guy, Peter Kasperski.
"It helps if you love your job," he adds with a smile.
The executive chef is a laid-back guy who's just as into comfort food and simple eats as he is the creative culinary exploits he's got going on at work. His journey began at Le Cordon Bleu, where he trained after leaving his small hometown near Parker, in western Arizona. Almost directly out of school, he landed a job at Cowboy Ciao. He says the imaginative stuff coming out of the kitchen caught his eye more than 11 years ago. He's been hooked here ever since.
He began as a humble line cook before moving his way up to grill and plating responsibilities. He hopped across the way to Kazimierz for a couple of years for experience, but working in a tiny kitchen pumping out flatbreads wasn't his favorite gig. In 2005, he made his way back over to Cowboy Ciao as sous chef and has held the title of executive chef for three years now.
Things have changed a lot since Gonzalez began with this company, not the least of which has been the boom of interest in food.
"Now everyone is in more of a food craze," he says, adding that that's it's a good thing.
It's part of the reason he thinks people have been so receptive to the miniature version of the restaurant you can now find at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Gonzalez was very hands-on during the development of the second location and says things have really picked up since it opened in November of last year.
"Production there is 10 times what it is [in Scottsdale]," he says.