Ysterday, Chef Brett Vibber of Center Bistro shared his stories of travel in Italy. Today he dishes more about his childhood in Tempe as the son of two local teachers and working his way up from pizza to fine dining.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
I probably knew I wanted to be a chef before I started kindergarten. I was always interested in cooking. That's what I did on Saturday mornings instead of watching cartoons, I was watching cooking shows.
What was your first job?
I started cooking professionally by the time I was 14. And that was a lot of fast service pizza for five or six years.
Where was this?
I worked at Barro's Pizza in Chandler. I immediately was subjected to the difference of cooking at home and the difference of cooking in a restaurant. There were probably thirty-five orders to fill when I walked in the kitchen. I didn't know how to make a pizza, I didn't know how to use any equipment, I didn't know how to use a knife.
What was the cooling like at home?
My mom made everything, I had dinner not out of packages, from scratch every night no matter how busy my mom and dad were. She had a mom that same way. I saw my grandma all the time, I baked and cooked with my mom and my grandma throughout my life....Probably starving myself from wrestling helped me enjoy cooking and eating a little bit more.
After the pizza gig
I like a challenge in personal life or professional life and I ran out of challenges as far as that went. I wanted to learn more about food, more about ingredients of the world, more about the whole big picture of full service restaurants
Moving on up
My first head chef job was when I was twenty-one years old. I was in charge of the whole restaurant, three hundred seats, it was at Rusty's in Tucson. It was not fine dining by any means. I got recruited from Rusty's to open a restaurant for a James Beard honoree that was coming to Tucson to open a restaurant, and that was Vin Tabla....After Vin Tabla I opened Roka Akor in Scottsdale. In between all of that I've always traveled to and from Europe as often as possible, working for whoever I could whenever I could, and expanding the network of friends and culinary professionals in Italy.
I always wanted to come back to Tempe at some point. I never had a time frame for when that point would be but when life brought me back to Tempe I always wanted to come back and bring my experience and knowledge back to my hometown to provide everyone I know with all the goodies I learned.
How has not going to culinary school impacted you?
I'd say it's affected me more in a positive way. I come to the table with hands on experience. I've done it. I've done the cooking in the ways they've only learned about in books....I'll never stop traveling, once I started it will never stop inside of me. That is my culinary education, more so than a piece of paper than I paid for. I get out and I see the world, I get out and I learn to do each chapter of a culinary school textbook by myself. It's spoken volumes more than going to school.
Where did you go to college?
Pima in Tucson and the Univeristy of Arizona.
What was your major?
Secondary Education. I thought at one point I might want to follow my dad and be a P.E. teacher and coach wrestling. By the time I was done with traditional college I was already an executive chef and I never really planned to pursue it.
What has been most difficult to master?
The hardest cuisine is changing over to Japanese food. When I went to work for Roka Akor, you learn a whole new level of being clean, fast, organized. In Japan they focus only on the best possible quality ingredients whereas in Europe you find chefs who are saving things or stretching things. Japanese, they like the best of the best all the time....From technique to ingredients it's the hardest cooking I've ever encountered.
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Describe the atmosphere in your kitchen
I'm hands on all the time but I've taken away the dictatorship of the traditional European kitchen. I don't so often yell, I instill a feeling of confidence. I don't put anyone in a position where I feel like I would have to yell at them. If I haven't taught them properly the way that the dishes need to be put together then that's a poor reflection on me. I never responded very well to anyone screaming or yelling at me, whether it was cooking, whether it was wrestling. I don't respond well to that form of leadership
Cooking with tension or cooking with anger comes out in the food, in how it looks, how it tastes, how it's put together, it reflects all the way from the top to the bottom.
Check back tomorrow for Chef Vibber's delicious hummus recipe.