Featured Chef: Executive Chef David Duarte
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The most successful people in any walk of life have a unique story to tell. Pane e Vino’s new General Manager/Executive Chef David Duarte has enough stories to fill a book. Or three.
“I shouldn’t be around, and I am.”
One book could tell the story of Duarte’s life as a firefighter in New York and Arizona. Any of “New York’s Bravest” could fill a library with tales from the heartbreaking to the hilarious. The Brooklyn-born Duarte is no exception, but his story is even more singular than most. “I’m absolutely one of the most optimistic people you’ll ever meet,” said Duarte. “I shouldn’t be around, and I am. I suffered a severe spinal cord injury that left me paralyzed, and I had to relearn how to walk.” He didn’t suffer the injury falling from a burning building, though. “It was in 2007, and I was paralyzed in a charity ice hockey game for fallen officers and firemen (Arizona Heroes Helping Heroes).”
Duarte lost one of his best friends and partners, leading to his fervent work for those who lose loved ones in the line of duty. Duarte still makes time for multiple charitable organizations benefitting public servants and their families. Charities like C.O.P.S., which provides resources to families and co-workers of fallen officers. Or CHEFS, which stands for Continue Helping Existing Family Survivors. As Duarte explains, “this allows me to use my culinary skills and the culinary world to help raise money.”
Charitable works helped lead Duarte to Pane e Vino. He met Pane e Vino owners Gillian and Stuart Bailey while all were feeding the homeless together. The mutual selfless instincts of Duarte and the Baileys forged a bond that led to Duarte doing multiple wine dinners at Pane e Vino. When circumstances led to Stuart, who also acted as General Manager, being forced to return to his home of England, Chef David Duarte was the perfect choice to step in and take the reigns.
“You learn to make really good, healthy stuff and get it right the first time.”
Firefighters have a well-earned reputation for being excellent cooks. Much of Duarte’s informal training came from his years spent in firehouse kitchens. “In the firehouse, think about the worst restaurant critic in the world. Now you have 15 or 20 of them. You’re together for 24-48 hours at a time. A third of my life was spent with the same men and women. If you’re not making something good, you’re going to hear about it. As a firefighter, you don’t have a lot of opportunities to redo things. You see it on these shows, it’s the middle of dinner, and they get called out right in the middle. You learn to make really good, healthy stuff and get it right the first time.”
A whole other book could tell the tale of Duarte’s extraordinary culinary journey. Upon retiring from the fire department, he took a leap of faith and went to Italy to culinary school. After finishing, Duarte had impressed the right people and stumbled into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “I lucked out because the chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant needed help at a wedding. I went and helped him out then his chef was no longer able to work, so I got right into a Michelin-starred restaurant.” After cutting his teeth in the world-class kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy and London, Duarte went to France to study the art of pastries at famed L’ecole Lenotre.
“A lot of people expect kitchens to have the chef cussing, yelling, screaming and I don’t believe in that.”
All these experiences have helped form Duarte’s philosophy as a leader in the restaurant. “Nowadays, some chefs are like rock stars, and a lot of them have enormous egos,” Duarte said. “Being a public servant my whole life, I know egos will kill you. A lot of people expect kitchens to have the chef cussing, yelling, screaming and I don’t believe in that. I think that is a myth that people in culinary have come up being ok with and I’m not ok with that.”
“You cook with passion. It has to have love and passion, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t taste right. Any ethnic group in the world, if you go to cook Mom’s food whether it’s Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, you can never do it because there’s always just that little tweak in there that Mom used to do and it’s the love and the passion.”
Through all the challenges he has faced, Chef David Duarte has come to this point in his life feeling fortunate for where he is right now. “Whether it be physical injury, financial, or something emotional, everyone has a battle,” Duarte said. “I just look at it as someone’s always got it worse. You have to put everything in perspective. I’m living the dream that most people never do. People are afraid to follow their dreams because of failure. But if you fail enough times at anything you’re going to end up succeeding.”
“I want the regulars to keep coming back.”
Chef David Duarte has big plans ahead for Pane e Vino. Some of his plans center around improving the already popular (and ScottsdaleRestaurants.com-approved) Happy Hour.
He also has his sights set on making the daily specials… extra special. “Our specials are going to be pretty impressive. I recently made a squid ink pasta with a tomato leek and fennel sauce. We also did guanciale with truffle cream and imported Italian black truffles. I want to start bringing in more handmade stuff for our specials, which will consist of seafood, a steak, and a pasta special. Our goal is to do some really nice, high-end dishes without raising prices. We don’t want to be the restaurant where people just come once in awhile. I want the regulars to keep coming back.”
Pane e Vino has a wine dinner series that begins in May. The wine dinners will include opportunities for guests to get in the kitchen and have a hands-on experience. Pane e Vino is located on the Northeast corner of Pinnacle Peak Road and Pima Road. To make a reservation or reserve your spot for the first wine dinner, call 480-473-7900.
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Tony Pontecorvo can be found online at @disguyyy