"Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first." Whoever first uttered those words was wise, indeed. In the sweet spirit of Top Chef's dessert-only challenge series, Chow Bella's treating you to a profile of a Valley dessert chef each week. This week: Slade Grove of Wicked Kitchen Gourmet and Cookies from Home.
Slade Grove is the kind of man you want in charge of your chocolate: He professes his love for his new enrobing machine and says he has packed on nearly 20 pounds perfecting all his holiday treats at Wicked Kitchen Gourmet and Cookies from Home.
Grove grew up on a farm and got burnt out in the IT world before transitioning to making desserts via a retail job at Williams-Sonoma and culinary school. Grove says sweets were calling him.
"The minute people bite into something you either have instant horror or instant gratification, and you can read it on their face," Grove says. "It elates me when people enjoy stuff."
Grove's Wicked Kitchen Gourmet and Cookies from Home were both recently purchased by Gourmet Express LLC, which has big visions for both to grow and evolve.
"Since Wicked has melded with Cookies, it's a whole new ball game," Grove says. He has been working on tweaking the cookie recipes to transition them from a "good cookie" to a "WOW!-now-that's-a-good cookie."
"It's going to be an interesting ride to see where it goes," Grove says. "The good, the bad, and the ugly: All of it together."
Today Grove shares the life lessons he learned from feeding cows, the slashed tires that make him not miss IT, the time he met Oprah, and the one cereal he could eat forever.
What was the best part about growing up on a farm? [Laughing.] Holy Moses! How did you know that?! I think it's the down-to-earth-ness. I wasn't a city kid. The town I grew up in was 1,500 whopping people. Luckily our station in life was decent, but we had a reality to it: We worked. I've always considered myself a worker bee. I don't have a problem putting in the hours to get something done. Yeah, I'll complain, but you know what, I think growing up on the farm has given me a very strong work ethic. I'll make sure it gets done no matter what it takes, even if you have to stay here past midnight. I think it is a little more reality on life as a whole. I haven't been sheltered and lived in a glass bubble. I went out, and I fed the cows in the morning. My mom as a child bailed hay and straw to make money. My mother. People can't wrap their heads around that in today's age, and it just gives us a different view point on work and a different viewpoint on life. It was a blast; it really was.
Strangest thing? We had a joke when people went to Morton's or somewhere else in town for a nice steak: My grandmother used to fry T-bones and throw them out the windows for the dogs. [Laughing.] Growing up, at any given moment, we had 800 pounds of ground beef in deep freezers in a garage or barn somewhere. That was the reality. It wasn't easy but it was fun. I think it gave me a better center.
Your great-grandmother owned a pie shop, right? Did you steal any of her recipes for Wicked? No pies really, no. We have hand-me-down recipes. I do make her pumpkin pie during Thanksgiving and Christmas. I make her pecan pie too, but added bourbon to make it my own. I change the butter and sugar ratios and added bourbon to it, but the base is her core base.
What did you beg your mom to make during the holiday season? I think the butter caramels. She'd make a fresh batch, and I would eat them until I was sick: Literally sick.
What's one thing you wish you could have back from when you worked in IT that you don't have now? Staying up in the new developments of technology and being held back by the technical limitations of the environment around me. When I was at Microsoft and AT&T, I always had the latest and greatest technology at my fingertips but just picking up the phone and saying "send it to me." Now I have to fight with an IT support person, and yeah, I still think I know more than he does sometimes.
What's the best part about not being in IT anymore? The stress. Definitely the stress. The last dot-com I worked for, I had to layoff 400 people at one time. My tires were slit, my windshield was busted out, and I don't know who of the 400 did it. We had to call in the Phoenix Confrontational Task Force, come to find out they have one for when employers layoff people. I had to be the axman, and that took a toll on me. They retaliated against my Dodge Intrepid, and thank God it was a company car.
How do you get an endorsement from Oprah's best friend, Gayle King? Did you get to meet Oprah? God bless Oprah. Gayle King and Oprah were in town eating pizza over at Chris Bianco's place, they wanted to know where to go in town for the best red velvet cake, and they ended up at my place. I got a phone call saying, "You need to open up. Trust me it's worth it." So I got there, and there she is no makeup, nothing. And they had the red velvet, loved it, and talked about it on the radio show. I think that's why I get to do some of the things I get to do and why I get the phone calls I get: I don't get all whipped up and excited [about meeting celebrities].
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Favorite cake flavor? Vanilla. Nothing crazy. Vanilla with a nice vanilla butter-cream. Some people call it wedding cake. Just a plain simple, vanilla cake. Nothing froufrou, nothing crazy. Just the simple clean, flavor. Maybe some strawberries and a little Gran Marnier.
Best thing you've ever eaten? The Cobb salad at Cowboy Ciao. The presentation is spot-on, 100 percent beautiful, and the flavor combinations, when you start melding them together with the freeze-dried stuff they're doing, are absolutely incredible. I think it's one of the best down-to-earth dishes I've had in my life. It's so simplistic. Sometimes simple is better.
If you were to make a grand Tour de Sweets, where would you travel? It'd be like a hopscotch game. I would want to check out Elizabeth Faulkner's stuff in San Francisco at Citizen. She does some really neat deconstructed stuff. She'll take traditional desserts, deconstruct them, make them something completely different, but meld all the flavor profiles. I would want to try Voodoo Doughnuts as many times as I possibly could. They take the donut and make it truly a gourmet treat. They focus on what they do and do a very good job at it. I'd probably want to go out to New York to try the Vosges Haut-Chocolat's stuff, because she's always doing something new in chocolates. Her bacon truffle was a little interesting, because she jumped on the bacon bandwagon. I tried to replicate it, and it was horrible. That was an embarrassing moment. So I'd hop around. There isn't one particular type of food I'd want to try. I'd want an eclectic mix of different things from different people. My first three stops would be Elizabeth's place in San Francisco, Voodoo Doughnuts and then out to Vosges.
If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only eat one thing forever, what would it be? Reese's has a new peanut butter cereal, modeled after a Reese's cup. So I'd have to have my almond milk and my peanut butter Reese's cup cereal. [Laughing.] When you come home from a long day, and you're so stressed out. All I want to do is sit in front of my TV, look and see what's on the DVR because it's usually full, and eat that Reese's cup cereal.