Kitchen Culture Q&A: Francisco Quintana
Getting to know the unsung heroes.
It’s no secret that a restaurant is the sum of its parts and that often, those in the ranks don’t receive enough recognition. For this series, we’re on a mission to find the industry’s true unsung heroes.
Francisco Quintana isn’t afraid of hard work. “It’s like that Richard Branson quote—say yes and then learn when you need to. I’ve learned through many errors,” he laughs. Quintana got his start as a busboy at 14, became a sous-chef by the age of 19, and was an executive chef two years later. Now, after holding titles like West Coast regional chef for Lucky Strike and executive chef at Appaloosa Grill, he and his girlfriend, Monica Ruiz, have started a ghost kitchen called Bet on Me with three concepts: 30Forth Kitchen, Somos Vegetarians, and Linda Hermosa. The duo started it out of her apartment during the pandemic. “My uncle wanted fettuccine,” Quintana explains. “I figured why just cook for just one?”
DiningOut: Where did you grow up?
Francisco Quintana: I’m a Denver native. I grew up on the east side—the area most commonly referred to as Five Points in the Cole neighborhood. Because of the violence, my mom bussed me to a southeast Denver school and I was always involved in computers and things like that.
DO: When did you discover cooking and kitchen work?
FQ: When I was 14, I started as a busboy at the Denver Zoo at the Hungry Elephant restaurant. I worked through the soda line, then short-order services. I stayed with them for seven years. I did the stock show. I didn’t go to culinary school, but I hung my skills on that. I fell in line with really good chefs and I’m thankful. I also had a GM who opened my eyes to the whole house. That made me a better manager.
DO: Do you have a favorite food memory?
FQ: It was pico de gallo with a little bit of tequila on a camping trip. My uncle Doug was always a good cook; he was always trying different recipes. It stuck out to me because he manipulated something so basic. That was the one that got me so interested in flavor.
DO: Do you have a mentor?
FQ: Mike Manoli was the first chef who would hand me a clipboard. He taught me the proper ways of cooking—that it was more than just putting fries in the fryer. Twenty-one days out of the year, he would go to the stock show and do the steakhouse. The exposure he gave me…I was able to go from the zoo to the stock show to the Botanic Gardens to weddings with him.
DO: What are your thoughts on the industry?
FQ: I kept my head down and absorbed everything, good and bad. I took out what I didn’t like, and I worked on things I wanted to change. Even if I had an excellent home run the night before, the next day [you start over]. It’s mentally straining. That’s why we have mental health issues in our industry.
DO: Do you have a favorite motto, saying or phrase?
FQ: I sign my emails with Jacques Pépin’s quote, “Great cooking favors the prepared hands,” which is a nicer way of saying proper planning prevents piss-poor performance.
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.
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