About Chef Daniel
I believe in expressing my personal and professional dedication to health and wellness through great-tasting food. In don’t think you can have one without the other. Healthy living is made healthier when food feeds the soul. Exciting food is made with locally-grown (or caught), fresh ingredients sprinkled with a dash of the best and most exotic ingredients from around the globe - superfoods. This is how you add the 'secret' flavor and maximize the nourishment and happiness potential of every meal.
Born and raised in Southern California, in the blistering heat of the Imperial Valley, I made my playground the endless fields of cotton (before production moved to Egypt), lettuce, watermelon, alfalfa and winter crops destined to travel to the far corners of the globe. My swimming pools were the irrigation canals and ditches that brought Colorado River water that made the desert, my desert, blossom year-round.
A few years before the turn of the century, I left California to apply my talents and enthusiasm at hotels, resorts and top tier culinary events that eventually took me all the way to the east coast. I spent a great deal of time in New England as Executive Chef at the Norwich Inn. It was there that I came to fully appreciate the beauty of all four seasons and the bounty of the Atlantic Ocean. Before that I was at Red Mountain Resort and Spa in St. George, Utah, in the majestic high desert. I remember two gentlemen that came looking for me the day I arrived there - luggage still intact. They appeared at my door demanding that I start working immediately and cook dinner that night. I can’t remember what I prepared, but it was good enough for everyone in the dining room to give me a standing ovation. That felt good.
Prior to Red Mountain, Miraval Life in Balance taught me “spa cuisine,” light as it is (and it is light, no matter what anyone tells you), can also be tasty. This spa has frequently been rated the best in the country. The chef there at the time was Cary Neff, now a well-know cookbook author and personality that has appeared on Oprah numerous times. It was there that I decided to learn as much as I could about healthy cooking. Chef Neff helped me discover an appetite for creating all foods good-tasting and good-for-you.
Powerful Nourishment is the name of my culinary style; it is about making food more nourishing by utilizing ingredients that have high nutrient and antioxidant value. In my forthcoming book, I will describe in detail what Powerful Nourishment is and how to use these techniques to eat better, feel better and look better – stay tuned.
A few words about my ethnic heritage: I am bi-racial: Chinese-Mexican. I grew up eating great Chinese and great Mexican food. At home we ate very well because both my mother and father knew how to cook well and they enjoyed cooking. For a time, my parents employed a lady, Margarita, from Puebla, Mexico, who was a great cook. She made homemade mole and pipian sauces from scratch in addition to a multitude of traditional Mexican desserts.
I truly enjoy eating foods and cuisines the world around, they are a reflection of the culture that produced them - all of them wonderful. Faithful to my cultures, however, my favorite are Chinese and Mexican. I also love French food and culture not because it was my first, formal culinary training, but because the French have elevated all things epicurean to a highly refined art. I use their example and try to apply it to other styles and cuisines I play with; styles that I meld into my own. I cook in the French style with Asian and Latino notes through and through. For example, a dish I prepared is braised lamb shoulder with star anise and chocolate in a broth made of Merlot wine and veal stock.
The California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, prepared me in classical French cooking. I had some excellent teachers there, one of whom was chef Bo Friberg, author of The Professional Pastry Chef and Jean-Michel Jeudy who is currently president of Association des anciens élèves de l'École hôtelière de Strasbourg. I remember these personalities vividly because these men were in command of their knowledge – true professionals given to excellence. Both men were brought up through the time-tested method of apprenticeship and firmly secure in each step they took.
While in San Francisco, I worked at a few places, one of which was Aqua. Chef George Morrone opened Aqua with Chef Michael Mina. They were both at Aqua when I was there. I had some interaction with Chef Morrone; he is very intense and very talented. I had very little exchange with Chef Mina, but more with Sous Chef, Traci Des Jardines, she was a caring individual and excellent to work with.
My other passion, animal science, I studied at the University of California at Davis. As an animal scientist I took a special focus in aquaculture – the farming of aquatic species. My studies there gave me the ability to understand human nutrition and physiology and to move from the world of food production into the world of culinary nutrition seamlessly. More than nutrition, calorie counts, food exchanges and portion sizes, UC taught me to think beyond the textbooks and established knowledge.
I was also fortunate to spend some time in Spain at one of the best-known restaurants: El Meson De Candido in Segovia. A friend introduced me to the founder’s grandson, Candido Lopez Cuerdo, who had taken over as chef. The specialty there is the “Cochinillo” (pronounced koh-cheen-eeyoh) roast sucking pig. People come from all over Spain to enjoy the dish and the ancient, charming beauty of Segovia.
Mexicali, Mexico, after Spain, brought me an executive chef position at a cozy 70-seat, eclectic restaurant called “La Papa” which means, literally, “the potato.” In the vernacular, it means “out to lunch.” This was a lot of fun; opening a place is always a positive experience, but more so here because I designed the place from door to kitchen.
Lastly, I have been fortunate to love what I do and get paid for it. I have received mentions from Connecticut Magazine and have been the focus of feature articles in the Hartford Courant, Providence Journal, The (New London) Day and the Norwich Bulletin. My menus and restaurants have received numerous People's Choice awards, among others. I have appeared on Connecticut Public Radio's The Food Schmooze with host Faith Middleton and demonstrated culinary technique and philosophy for the University of New Haven's Institute of Gastronomy and Culinary Arts Seminar Series. I once shared the bill with the Chef Jacques Pepin (I used to see him cooking on PBS as a kid. He's still going!) in the demonstration kitchen at Connecticut Magazine's Best of Connecticut 2002. I also demonstrated my healthy cooking techniques and shared my Powerful Nourishment philosophy with students in the culinary nutrition program at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island.
I live in sunny Southern California, near my childhood friends and family.