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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Quiessence Chef Living Out Childhood Dream

Many young boys dream of becoming sports stars or astronauts or even the President of the United States. But when Greg LaPrad was 13, he was reading cookbooks and envisioning a career as a chef. At 15, he landed his first job as a dishwasher.


Now 25, LaPrad is the acclaimed chef de cuisine of Quiessence Restaurant & Wine Bar located in the historic farmhouse at The Farm at South Mountain. Reputation-wise, Quiessence is anything but “quiet.” Since LaPrad came on board, the cozy restaurant, owned by Pat Christofolo of Santa Barbara Catering, has garnered a lot of buzz and even was billed as “the best restaurant in Phoenix” by critic Elan Head in the January issue of Phoenix Magazine.


“I really enjoy where I’m at now in South Mountain,” said LaPrad, who grew up in Connecticut. “We’re kind of off the beaten path for a chef-driven restaurant. The closest restaurant to us is Applebee’s.”


With a deep, sonorous voice that belies his age, LaPrad admits a compliment like “the best in Phoenix” is a pinnacle achievement for any chef and is proud of the philosophies to which he and the Quiessence staff adhere—work harder, buy only the best, local ingredients and be creative.


The menu, which LaPrad describes as “eclectic—classic Italian dishes with our own spin” is determined daily from the seasonal produce and meats available.


“We hold ourselves to a very high standard,” agreed sous chef Anthony Andiario. “We do a lot of things by hand—we almost cook personally for each table.”


“As far as being a chef, he’s just genius,” said Dustin Christofolo, son of owner Pat Christofolo and the general manager and sommelier. “He’s definitely not one of those chefs who want to flaunt his face. He’s very humble; he’s very well-spoken, but at the same time, very quiet.”


LaPrad didn’t have a moment of epiphany that convinced him food was his calling; rather, it was an idea that took root over the years.


“I’ve been interested in cooking pretty much all my life,” he said. He first began experimenting in the kitchen with his father, blending New England seafood recipes with the classic Italian fare of their heritage.


“Most Sundays,” he said, “we spent the day cooking. A lot of days I would cook for my family.”


Yet despite their shared passion for food, LaPrad’s parents discouraged the restaurant business as a career in lieu of something more sensible. Heeding their advice he began studying engineering and physics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida with the goal to become an airline pilot. Meanwhile he continued to work in restaurants. After two years, he permanently traded pencils and textbooks for ingredients and aprons and enrolled full-time in culinary school at Johnson & Whales University in Rhode Island. It wasn’t a difficult decision, he said: “It was really what I wanted to do.”


After an internship in Tuscany, LaPrad moved to the Valley in 2004 and began working for Michael deMaria at Michael’s at the Citadel; that’s where he first met Andiaraio.


LaPrad has been “a great influence on me, personally. I was a very young cook when I met Greg,” said Andiario, 28, who decided to go to culinary school after earning a degree in graphic design and photography from Penn State. 


With a schedule of 12- to 14-hour days, six days per week, LaPrad doesn’t have much free time. But when he does, he and his wife, Jennifer, like to check out other chef-driven restaurants around town. He says Valley chefs share camaraderie, supporting each other rather than competing.


Meanwhile, for LaPrad and Quiessence, the next goal may be a James Beard award—the culinary industry’s equivalent of an Oscar.


“That’s a lofty goal,” he said, “but we like to think that it’s achievable. Work harder, buy better ingredients—continuing that philosophy will serve us in the future.”


Quiessence Restaurant & Wine Bar is located at The Farm at South Mountain, 6106 S. 32nd Street (just south of Southern Avenue). For more information, contact the restaurant at 602-276-0601 or www.quiessencerestaurant.com.


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