As Colorado Springs’ chef-owner Brother Luck says of Lucky Dumpling cook Katie Fisco, “There are employees who are family. She’s an example of the pulse of what our restaurants are about: the people.” Here, Fisco talks about coming up through the industry and watching it change in real time.
DiningOut: What’s your background and how did you discover cooking?
Katie Fisco: I’m a military brat. My parents met in Okinawa, Japan and that’s where I was born. My mom is from the Philippines and my dad is from New Jersey….My mom was always cooking. We had rice with every meal; it’s a Filipino staple. That’s the first thing I learned how to cook—how to measure it, how to wash it, how to put it in the rice cooker. I always got my hand slapped for opening the steamer too early.
DO: How did you make your way into the industry?
KF: I did not pursue a career in cooking because my parents weren’t supportive of it. The Food Network was just taking off and female chefs and female chefs of color weren’t a thing. I was a bank teller to pay my bills and trying to be something my parents wanted me to be…but when the bug bit me, I couldn’t ignore it. I ran into a homeless person and had a couple-hour conversation about mother sauces and how you don’t throw away the bone. I took it as a sign. I went to work the next day and a woman came in and said she had just gone to culinary school and that she hated it and was selling all her equipment. I couldn’t ignore that. I bought her stuff and went to culinary school at Pikes Peak Community College.
I ran into a homeless person and had a couple-hour conversation about mother sauces and how you don’t throw away the bone. I took it as a sign.
DO: What do you love about the restaurant industry?
KF: I love that I don’t know everything. Every day is a chance to go to the next level on a skill I’ve been working on or [to gain] knowledge or discovery. I’m addicted to learning about different cuisines and cultures and all of a sudden there’s an overlap.
DO: What do you hate?
KF: Coming up out of the industry, it was hard being female. I could pass as white or some people might see me as Asian. I’ve seen really ugly parts of people. Some jokes pass by and everyone is laughing and it’s not funny as a person of color or a woman, but what do I do? I look white. I might not have said something but silence is not a good answer….Times are changing, though. The air changes when a woman or a person of color comes into the room.
DO: Do you have a mantra or a favorite quote?
KF: I’m not going to quote it verbatim, but [it’s about] the concept that Julia Child didn’t start her career until her 40s. She says, “I was 40 when I started cooking, everything else was eating and research.” That spirit, it balances out all my thoughts of “work cooking” and “home cooking.” All my knife cuts don’t have to be perfect [at home], it’s OK if the onion is uneven, it’s going into the soup anyway.
DO: Finish this sentence: “Working in a restaurant is like…”
KF: …painting spinning plates.
DO: If you had to write your story in six words, what would you say?
KF: “Life is fleeting, hold on tight.”
Tune into Best Served, a podcast from Jensen Cummings. The Denver chef spent his entire career cooking and owning restaurants, until he realized he could better serve those around him by being a conduit of community. Cummings has since made it his mission to find and champion the industry’s unsung heroes. And email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate our next unsung hero.