"It's not about the money. It's about being willing to put in the time and effort for personal growth. It's having heart, soul, and dedication that gets you to the top." - Chef David Gilbert
There's a new chef in town. Raised in Dallas, 28-year-old David Gilbert made his triumphant return late last year as executive chef of LuQa Restaurant, located in the downtown Dallas Roof Gardens. After a stint at Restaurant Vermeer in Amsterdam, Gilbert returned to the States and the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, and within the year was promoted to head chef at the Ritz-Carlton in St. Thomas. From chef de cuisine at The Inn at Perry Cabin on the Chesapeake Bay to chef de cuisine at Eau Bistro in St. Louis to executive chef at the Beverly Hilton, Gilbert now brings his New American cuisine (familiar food prepared in unique, creative ways) home to the Lone Star state.
"I was happy in Beverly Hills, cooking for the who's who, when the LuQa opportunity came along," says Chef Gilbert. "It was the perfect combination of factors at the right time--the Dallas restaurant scene is really beginning to heat up, I have a lot of creative freedom at LuQa, and, of course, my family still lives here. It's an exciting time to be back in Dallas."
Chef Gilbert told me that much of his kitchen inspiration is derived from teamwork. Everyone in the kitchen has an equal say when it comes to tossing ideas on the table. Whether the ideas come from an intern, the sous chef, or the top gun himself, the team builds on those ideas to come up with new and creative menu items and innovative food presentation techniques.
A 1997 graduate of Johnson and Wales University, Chef Gilbert is a strong advocate of culinary education, making sure that his interns set up their work schedules to accommodate their school schedules. "You can't advance and be a truly successful chef and do all of the 'fancy stuff' unless you understand the culinary basics. You need to be able to answer the basic question--why? You not only need to know that you can use egg whites to clarify broth, you need to know why it works. Education provides that all-important foundation."
Chef Gilbert is concerned that, with the popularity of TV food shows, culinary graduates think they'll be able to make a ton of money right out of school. "It's not about the money," he added, "It's about being willing to put in the time and effort for personal growth. It's having heart, soul, and dedication that gets you to the top." He related that early in his career he was offered a lucrative sous chef job, but chose to take a lesser paying and less prestigious position because ultimately he knew it would be a more profitable learning experience.
"I can't emphasize how much traveling, reading, and communicating with people has contributed to my success," says Gilbert. "I decided right out of high school that I would invest in myself rather than squandering my money on typical 17-year old stuff. A buddy and I traveled through the lesser known areas of Central America, including the Yucatan Peninsula, basically just absorbing culture." His next cultural and culinary adventure takes him to Africa in the fall, and his fans can't wait to taste the results of his travels.
As for me, just reading one of the LuQa menu items made me light-headed--butternut squash ravioli with caramelized apple, truffle, and lavender-honey--I can't imagine what actually dining at LuQa would be like. If I'm ever passing through Dallas, I plan to visit around dinner-time.