ZZest: The People
One of only 121 Certified Cheese Professionals, worldwide, in the
inaugural class to be awarded this certification from the American Cheese
Society, she has made a career of researching and finding
the unique foods which she used to design restaurant menus, and is now
using her culinary talent to bring over-the-top “gourmet” ingredients to
both our café and your kitchen.
What can I say. Every store needs a back bone and
that wonderful task is mine! Seriously though I love it. Not as much as
sitting next to a creek with a nice piece of Bent River cheese and a
jalapeño pepper jelly, or stuffing my face with a crazy mustard, or
holding forty pounds of charcuterie. Nothing calms me more. Unless it's
my straight forward, in your face, non personal bubble breaking service.
I enjoy those crazy customers that love food as much as I do. “Honestly,
I’m talking to you! You better get down here and have some fun with
(not to be confused with Erik)
I began my restaurant career in the front of the house waiting tables
and bartending at The Redwood Room in the mid nineties. I spent a couple
of years at the Smiling Moose. Then my wife and I packed up for north
Dallas Texas. That is where I got the foodie bug waiting tables at a
cool Mediterranean café named Sambuca with live jazz and some great
After a little begging, Chef Pete Nolasco let me have a shot in the
kitchen. As the only English speaking cook in the kitchen it was “trial
by fire.” After six months I was promoted to sous chef of the soon to
open Denver location. Located in lower downtown Denver and a short drive
to the world’s best skiing, it was the perfect place for me. After one
year under the classically French trained Chef Jackie Lee Fields, I was
promoted to head chef. I spent two years as the chef of Sambuca before I
decided it was time to dive into food a little deeper. I left Sambuca
for a position at The Hill Top Café in Golden Colorado, where I worked under
Chef Ian Klienman, an up and coming chef in the Denver area, who was
starting to get some national recognition. After two years and two kids
my wife and I were ready to head back to Rochester. I’ve spent six years
with Creative Cuisine (Jerry's previous restaurant group) since my
return. I spent a few years at City Café before I went to help open the
kitchen at 300 first and then Pazzo. After that I was off to my next
adventure at ZZest. Jerry and LeeAnn have taken all of us in with their
huge hearts and made us apart of a very unique restaurant experience.
(not to be confused with Eric)
Christine (left) Christine has
been an epicurean from a young age, declaring scallops her favorite food
when just a tot. Growing up, she and her sisters could typically be
found cooking up a storm in the family kitchen, and although time has
passed, little has changed. Christine attended Xavier University, and
spent over four years in events and development at Cincinnati Opera.
She most recently spent a year exploring and eating her way through
Houston, Texas, and having recently arrived in Rochester, quickly made
ZZest her home away from home. You can find Christine flitting around
the market, dining room or cheeses, and is always glad to lend
thoughtful inspiration to your next meal, gift, or event.
Steph (not Stef -- right)
Washing dishes. That’s how I began my illustrious career in the
hospitality industry and it has taken me far. My first restaurant job
was humble and dirty. Throughout the years, I’ve held many different
front of the house positions, from busboy to server to bartender. I
have been bartending for 17 years now and have learned a few things
along the way. To be honest, two things have driven me in the
hospitality industry, money and food. Well, three things actually, I am
pretty lazy, so I figured the that I could work at nicer restaurants,
make more money, eat delicious food, and not work as hard, that was the
way to go. Along the way, I actually absorbed a lot of knowledge of food
and beverage. I’ve worked in restaurants across the country, from
Naples, FL, Denver, CO, Scottsdale, AZ, and Los Angeles, CA. I have had
the opportunity to work with some talented and amazing people along the
way, working in places like Mr. C Hotel in Beverly Hills, owned by the
famous Cipriani family, Sassi, in North Scottsdale, where I met Wade
Moises, a former protégée of Mario Batali, from whom I learned a love
and passion for Italian food and drink. Working in various restaurants
and learning new cuisines and customs, I have amassed a love and passion
for the hospitality industry. Above all, my interactions with guests
are what keep me coming back for more every day. My desire to create
amazing cocktails to please the guests is why I do what I do. If I have
to stay until 1 in the morning, breaking down a 300-pound ice block so
guests can have the biggest, clearest ice cube they have seen, so be it.
I am glad I decided not to go to law school in Los Angeles, and instead
decided to make a career out of making people happy. The opportunities
that Jerry and LeeAnn have given me over the past year since I have come
on board at ZZest are amazing and have helped me grow in the bartending
community and provided a new aspect to the ZZest experience.
My first job in the restaurant industry was making pizzas at a bowling
alley when I was twelve. Since then, I have been in and out of the bar &
grills, super clubs, and golf courses, along with family style
restaurants. After graduating high school, trying to figure out the next
step, I wanted to get more involved in fine dining or more of the
culinary arts background to learn a little bit more in depth about food.
I enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu, and worked my way through school. I
graduated with an associate’s degree in applied science and a culinary
arts degree. In 2004, I started my internship at Nosh Restaurant & Bar
in Wabasha, MN. There I learned a lot about where the food is coming
from. The focus was local and seasonal along with everything made in
house. Eventually, I had worked my way up to sous chef, and had a
variety of different tasks to keep me busy: butcher, baking, focusing on
stocks and sauces, along with some desert work, ice creams & sorbets,
and composing plates. Feeling like it was time to see and start
something new, I had accepted a sous chef position at Sontes in
Rochester, MN. The focus there was tapas, small plates, again using
local where we could, and sourcing very nice ingredients or products
such as Serrano hams, cured meats, and French cheeses. I was also
fortunate to have Justin walk me through more of the business side of
the restaurant, such as inventory, ordering, and purchasing, along with
costing out plates. Another opportunity came my way as a personal
executive chef at private business in Rochester, MN, located in the old Mayo Wood
Mansion. There I was responsible for all meals for the week for ten to
twelve residents. The type of food I was putting out was getting back
into home cooking or comfort food. That lasted about a year, and due to
some financial issues, the owner had or close its doors. Looking for
that new opportunity, I wanted to have a lot of creative control,
planning and executing the menu to share my interests and take on food.
I had randomly applied at ZZest and Jerry and LeeAnn took me in, and
have provided me with a great opportunity to do just that. Some things I
enjoy outside of work are traveling, eating, snowboarding, golfing,
along with camping and fishing in the summertime.
My name is Stef. I am an ambitious and determined girl! When
I first realized that I'd found my passion for cooking, I pursued my
dream and enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu at Brown College. When I graduated
from there I interned at Broadstreet Cafe. I've been with the growing
company ever since I was hired straight from my internship. I have
worked at 300 First, Redwood Room, Newts Express, and Pi Pizza. I am
currently at the job of my dreams... ZZest. I have been broadening
my senses and my palette while at ZZest and I hope to learn something new
each and every day! My off days are generally spent relaxing or spending
some time with my friends and family.
There are those of us who pride themselves on being wine
connoisseurs; allowing their palates to detect certain aromas, and
determining the finish and length of each sip. Others, feel drawn to be
cheese enthusiasts, and make it their deputation to learn all they can
about camemberts, manchegos, and bries.
I, on the other hand, have found my own place in determining what my
expertise is on…chocolate.
I have been involved in the restaurant business for all of my life, and
I have always had a hobby of loving chocolate--now it has become my job.
I am the self-appointed chocolate specialist.
Working at ZZest has allowed me to broaden my horizons, not
only with chocolate, but with cookies and cakes as well, of course.
Although I may sound a trite vacuous, I truly love my job and I am able
to take on many tasks, so I never become bored. In the summers I oversee
the patio outside, while in the winter season (AKA Minnesota’s other 9
months,) I do managerial work like a big kid.
My favorite of all -- yes, even more so than my love of chocolate -- is
being able to let my creative side out. I am, and have been, studying
photography in college and often times I am permitted to take pictures
of the store and employees, create signs and posters, and help at least
one of the owners in double checking her grammar on newsletters...
I once was a fastidious, persnickety, and chicken-nugget-devouring
eater, and now, turned into an open-minded, unbiased,
I started washing dishes when I was 15 years old, in Rochester’s
Perkins Restaurant. Today, I have mastered many of the toughest
In a quest to be promoted to line cook, I left my dishwashing job at age
16, and started to cook at the, now defunct, Embers restaurant. It was
there that I was taught by my manager, Mike Currie, all phases of
restaurant operation, including line cooking; waiting tables; hosting;
cashiering; inventories; food ordering; menu costing; sanitation;
personnel hiring, training, and scheduling; and restaurant management.
I also regularly cooked breakfast, alone, for over 150 people a day.
That was the deal I made with Mike to earn $4 an hour wages -- double
the going rate. It was not much training towards culinary expertise,
but, I am now able to organize myself and do twelve things all at once.
I also further honed my skills at dishwashing.
My manager, Mike, and I eventually decided that we could run restaurants
better than our employers, so, we ventured off onto our own. In
1978, after dropping out of college with promises to my father that I’d
finish "some day" and talking my father out of a lot of money (as well
as his IBM retirement), we started our first restaurant, “The Bank,” in
We soon realized how much we really did not know about running
restaurants, and we also found out that hundred-hour work weeks could
make up for a fair amount of ignorance.
The Bank fit the 1970’s style of restaurants as a supper-club-in-an-unusual-environment, aka, “themed” restaurant. It was in the day when people ate
the same steak & potatoes as they always had, but, in a “train” or an
“airport” or a “cave” or a “gold mine” or some other more clever venue.
The Bank was a suit & tie, classy place, that ended up falling into the
category of an “occasional dining” spot -- i.e. birthday and anniversary
only. The most frequent comment was
“I ate there once and I really loved it!” Emphasis was on “loved it” but
I only heard “once.”
In 1980 we transformed our dying upstairs lounge
into a burger and beer restaurant called “Newts.” Originally, we sold
tap beer for 75¢, mixed drinks for $1.25, and half pound burgers for $2.
In our 70 seat bar we could sell 1000 beers a night. We sold a few
Eventually, The Bank gave way to Henry Wellington, a name we made up,
with many of the food elements of The Bank (prime rib, steaks, sirloins,
etc) and some bar elements like nachos and onion rings, in a much more
casual setting, complete with
2-for-1 drinks in both the afternoon and late night. It was a cross
between the then thriving (but not yet in Rochester) Bennigan’s and TGI
Friday’s. The success of both Newts and Henry Wellingtons was huge.
We then continued with other business pursuits, some successful and some
not, like “Emerald Coast Ocean Products,” a wholesale / retail seafood
market; “Henry Wellington of Battle Lake” a smaller version in a
northern Minnesota town; “Broadstreet Café” and “Redwood Room” a very
high end restaurant with a more casual cousin; “Jerry’s Diner” what the
name would imply; “Henry Wellington of Bloomington IL” a huge restaurant
and also my biggest business failure; “JP Zubay’s City Market” still a
thriving Rochester deli; “City Café” a modernized version of the
outdated Henry Wellington in Rochester; and “300 FIRST” which replaced
the aging Broadstreet Café.
During that time I was also a paid consultant for several operations but
most notably Walt Disney World, in Orlando, after I submitted to them a
17 page letter of complaint / job application, regarding their food
service operations. In my two year stint there I saw the “Illuminations”
fireworks and laser show in EPCOT about a hundred times – and I think I
cried every time. I also gained a special appreciation for “Dilbert”
cartoons because I now personally know each character.
It was also at The Bank that I met my wife, LeeAnn, one of the
first waitresses – and probably the best. Mike
warned me not to fool around with the help, but, I refused to listen.
She shared and nurtured my passion for all things food and restaurant,
and she gained a huge insight into the culinary world while I focused my
efforts on restaurant management and operations. When I’d come home and
“what’s for dinner?” she would have to consult Bon Appetite and
Gourmet magazines, Epicurious.com, and then scan through the last
episode of “Iron Chef” (still the Japanese version) before she could
answer. She taught me appreciation for the world of food beyond Kraft,
Heinz, and Sysco, and also taught me the need to respect food trends, so
we would not become the leisure suit of the culinary world. She served a
long time as Consulting Chef doing menu research and recipe development
for our restaurants, as well as scouting out hard to find ingredients.
She also stayed home to raise our three kids – a feat much more
difficult than restaurant operations. And did it, for the most part,
single handedly, while I focused on food costs and training, in our
After I sold my restaurant interests to Mike’s kids, I successfully
retired – for the better part of two weeks. LeeAnn then insisted on
following her dream to find the finest in culinary ingredients as well
as a café to showcase the effective use of the best products on the
planet. When a local restaurant failed the landlord contacted us and he
made us an offer we could not refuse.
It is today that I spend my life now having more fun than I ever did,
selling products I cannot pronounce but that I can savor and enjoy, with
a wife and staff that I love and respect for their passion and drive to
become the ultimate foodies. And, I still get to wash dishes every day
– what could be better?!
Eventually, I did pay back my father, but, I have not finished college.
Not yet a broken promise because I hope to have a few more “some days.”
And I dedicate my dreams and successes to my father, Ken, who died in
March 2010 – always my biggest fan, biggest supporter, and biggest
critic – and my mother, Mary, who followed him six months later.