We had the good fortune of connecting with Chef Sarah Chianese and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Chef Sarah, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Ahhhh…the reptilian brain (instinctive) versus the rational (strategic) brain is where instinct integrates with experience. Experience has definitely led me to trust my instincts when it comes to plunging head first into change…and so far, it has definitely resulted in an extremely satisfactory, intriguing, albeit often quite challenging life. My current career as a Chef is one I actually enjoyed a couple of decades ago at which time my talented senior partner in culinary delights moved to Hawaii and I was left at a young age to determine whether or not I would pursue a career in catering on my own, or dive into production – another passion of mine. I opted for production at that time and enjoyed that for 20 years before coming back to my first love: Cooking! No regrets – and with many additional jobs throughout those years while raising my children (I have juggled many jobs simultaneously to make sure we always had a roof over our heads and food on the table) I have zero regrets. Only gratitude. Risk must be taken to gain the reward. Even on a personal level, although terrified of heights, I went skydiving (and fell quite in love with it for a spell – no pun intended) with some colleagues and that is a perfect example of risk versus reward…what a thrill! Terrifying and yet so gratifying. If risk isn’t taken throughout life, for me at least, Life isn’t being lived. The beautiful thing about getting wiser with risk is to learn from each and every single lesson (I definitely won’t use the word failure as each lesson brings one where he/she is today) and improvements are constantly being made. All in all, listen to your heart…even when it’s whispering…it will lead you to where you belong. As it turns out, I definitely belong with fresh, organic bounty before me and a heat source to cook it with!
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I come from a family riddled with writers, artists, musicians, performers, actors, educators and therapists. Art, in one form or another, is prevalent throughout every family member and is taken very seriously – although often with a strong element of humor in that seriousness. Wit goes a long way in the journey. My daughter is an incredibly talented full-time artist and performer and remains back in NY. My son is here with me in Colorado and is a food stylist extraordinaire here at Mangia and Enjoy! His art is truly beautiful with how he presents our renowned and award-wining cheese and charcuterie boards, his concoctions of large, jeweled organic salads that change from salad-to-salad which often takes on the personality of the group we are feeding, gorgeous touches of family-style platter presentation. Although having had been an artist, actress, director, producer, art & theatre teacher and other forms of creative expression throughout my life…my favorite artistic expression is my current job as a Chef, creating what I suppose one can call edible art…with an ever changing palette to choose from using organic, local, sustainable goods to create with. Yes, of course many excellent chefs use farm-to-table ingredients and create beautiful art – and I commend them all! What sets me apart from the rest? I imagine my clients and fellow chefs would have to answer that, but from the feedback I get most often, I would have to say it’s the Customized Love…they can taste the Love! I always say I left the production world to come back to being a Chef as cooking is a production that every single person walks away from extremely happy. With cooking being my direct form of Love, I am able to combine all of the things that define me into the dish: Love, Gratitude (for the ingredients and whom we are about to feed), Art (we do love to present the food creatively and aesthetically pleasing) and Compassion/Community (every single service, large or small, is intended to help create beautiful memories, as well as delectable food, of course.) Every single dish created may not be a world-changing effort, but it is making a difference on a microcosmic scale. Each happy bite and the effect it has on the individual enjoying it creates happiness. It creates nutrition utilizing excellent quality ingredients that helps support every local farmer it is procured from. It stirs up sense memories while creating new ones. It breeds joy. It is a large part of that individual celebration. It evokes. That is what art is. Has it been an easy ride to get here? Goodness, of course not…and who expects an easy ride? It has been a whirlwind of challenges and lessons and financial devastation along the way – and in that process it has been extremely rewarding, heart-lifting, joyful and inspiration as well! Even the current state of affairs, which is a world-wide challenge everyone is sharing together, and particularly for the event and food industry – we took this opportunity to embrace a bold move across the country and moved out here to beautiful Colorado Springs. “Who does that?” asked many of my friends and colleagues…,”especially now?” We do. There are beautiful mountains, organic farms, clean air, loads of sun…and there are always people who enjoy truly healthy, creative, flavorful, organic and ethically sourced food! So, the question is: Why not? In the words of my mentor, Mr. Joseph LaRuffa: “Just Do It! And do it with “chutzpah” or don’t do it at all! Amen!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Garden of the Gods, Pike’s Peak, Hot Springs, Hot-Air Balloon launches, Military Drill Watching, Bike Trails & Ski resorts just a drive away in every direction…so many beautiful places to go and witness pure magic through Colorado’s bounty of natural wonders! Garden of the Gods (particularly when it is not crowded) is one of the most awe-inspiring places. It can take you out of yourself, or deeply reflective upon oneself – either way, the nooks and crannies of beauty remind me of what we are here to enjoy in life: it took millions of years to form this phenomenon…let’s enjoy every single speck and moment! Hot Springs: who doesn’t love being immersed in naturally warm water that heals your skin and soothes your Soul? Goodness…what a treasure to have at our fingertips! Pike’s Peak…I’ve been to Yosemite to hiking every single mountain in the Catskills, and I take no mountain for granted…every single view is a miracle in your eyesight. Heading up 14,000′ is something to experience with a view to behold and cherish. Of course, if you’re an avid bike rider, taking that intense trek is one to go into the annuls…worth every grueling pedal! A far easier bike excursion is at the foot of where we are located with delightful trails to enjoy: Bear Creek provides a super easy and beautiful park to ride around with views of the Rockies before you. Red Rock Canyon, Palmer Park, Ute Valley Park, Austin Bluffs, Pulpit Rock Park, Cottonwood Creek Trail are all bike trails to give mountain and road bike lovers a week’s worth of riding enjoying their respective gifts of natural wonder along the way. The non-winter months also offer the splendor of weekend Hot Air Balloon launches every Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting. We have a perfect view from our back deck…so fun to see the balloons head up, knowing folks are enjoying the ride! The bounty of military/air force bases also allows for excellent air shows and military drills. Definitely worth keeping a pair of binoculars handy. Finally, the incredible weather! Wow! I must say, anyone who ever wants to be outside 90% of the time can definitely find that in beautiful Colorado! The concept of planning an outdoor event or excursion with the slimmest chances of inclement weather is a blessing! Never mind the fact that you can catch the sun on your back deck even when there’s snow on the ground in the middle of Winter. Now, having a Mediterranean heritage, I must say, that’s a huge bonus to loving this area as the Sun in definitely a dear friend of mine. Being that I arrived here in beautiful Colorado Springs during the pandemic, I haven’t had the pleasure to indulge in indoor perusing of restaurants, sporting events, nightlife, breweries, etc…but I sure do look forward to exploring once everything opens up, safely, again. Meanwhile, I’ll keep exploring outdoors and thanking God every day for the bounty available to us in this beautiful State!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My main mentor in life (outside of family) was not a Chef, but my high school band teacher, Mr. Joseph LaRuffa (1922-2019), who taught us about passion in what you do…about dedicating yourself entirely…who coined the phrase, “Just Do It!” way before Nike and Michael Jordan ever did. I came to my high school as essentially a middle school dropout from Brooklyn in order to give school (and myself) another shot. I went straight to the band room and asked if I could please join the band. He asked what instrument did I want to play and my response was the cello. It was a symphonic band with no strings. He suggested the french horn…and there it was…I fell deeply in love with the sound of the horn – and more importantly, Mr. LaRuffa’s stern yet wise and warm style of teaching. He not only taught the students an incredible gift of music, but he taught us about truly pursuing your passions with “chutzpah!” Chutzpah is defined as: extreme audacity, self-confidence, nerve, gall, bravery that borders on rudeness…he would tell us to, “Do it with chutzpah, or don’t do it at all!” Hence…my life’s mantra. No mediocracy was ever accepted on his watch, nor on mine as a result. Bless his heart for offering a lifelong message to all who knew him, as well as the ability to create another huge gift: incredibly beautiful music! A second, and important shoutout is an homage to my hometown of Brooklyn, NY. The variety of scents and flavors the streets in my childhood were riddled with excellent food! Every cuisine you could imagine thrived in our diverse Brooklyn culture. I grew up smelling my way through culinary education. I would walk down one block where there were shish kebabs and roasted chestnuts being cooked on one corner, and by the time I walked to the next corner I had passed a Chinese restaurant steaming off dumplings and basting their spareribs; an authentic Brooklyn Jewish deli with the smell of hot pastrami, mustard, knishes and freshly made sauerkraut; a Jamaican Beef Pattie Joint with curry and spice pouring out of their storefront and bottles of iced Ting in front; a REAL pizza place where the guys behind the counter knew every kid by name serving pizza delicious enough to order a plain slice of Neapolitan or Sicilian because it didn’t need anything other than some granulated garlic sprinkled on, and there was every kind of Italian ice waiting to be scraped up into a little paper cup of sweet, tasty heaven for you; usually right next door to any pizza joint was a delectable Italian Bakery filled with traditional Italian desserts to rival the Bronx’s Arthur Ave and lower Manhattan’s Little Italy bakeries; a South and North Indian restaurant vying for the customers to choose their cuisine, both filling up the atmosphere with heavenly spices and loud clanking in the kitchen as they created both vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisines from mild to spicy bliss; and the list goes on… This upbringing, with the assistance from my intensely sensitive olfactory sensibility, created an invaluable education for my young and curious gustatory exploration. I owe a tremendous homage to this experience in deep gratitude for the variety of world flavors my palate brings to any culinary magic I am fortunate enough to share with others.