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Chef Michael Rossi: “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became a Chef”

Cooking is an opportunity to learn not only about nutrition but also safety, patience, planning, science and math! Cooking requires persistence, and an opportunity to learn from mistakes. It is a valuable life skill that should be more available to children. I’d love to be a part of a bigger movement to help make this a reality.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Rossi. Known for his highly seasonal approach to ingredients, stunning presentation of dishes, and designation as a Level 2 Certified Sommelier, Michael Rossi is a powerhouse as Executive Chef of THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon in Anaheim, CA.

After graduating top of the class at the prestigious California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Rossi traveled and worked throughout Italy, France, Canada, Australia, Hawaii, Los Angeles and San Francisco. He trained under Chef Roy Yamaguchi of the highly successful Roy’s Restaurants; worked with world-renowned Chef Bruno Barbieri at the Michelin 2-star restaurant, Locanda Solarola in Bologna, Italy; helped open Disney’s® Award-Winning Napa Rose Restaurant; and he is one of six Chefs in America to be inducted into Fraternity of the Côtes de Bordeaux Wine Council.

In 2010, Rossi joined friend and mentor, Master Sommelier Michael Jordan, as THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon’s inaugural Executive Chef. Rooted deeply in farm-to-table principles, Rossi is inspired by the organic heirloom produce from THE RANCH’s very own two-acre Farm in the Santa Ana Mountains.

His cuisine is best described as Modern American, balancing classic dishes with elevated interpretations of global fare.

Rossi and his Culinary Team support three venues under one roof totaling 53,000+ square feet: Restaurant, Saloon and Events Center.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a chef?

Growing up in a large Italian family, food was always at the center of our celebrations. Our kitchen was a place for us to work together to make something for everyone to enjoy.

Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?

I would say that my passion for food encompasses many different styles of cuisine. I enjoy cooking Asian and Pacific Rim cuisine because of my culinary travels and work experiences in Hawaii. I also love cooking Mexican food because I was born and raised in Southern California and there are many cultural influences from all over Mexico. But if I had to choose one, I would say that my favorite cuisine to cook is Italian. With my family background and my great grandparent’s being immigrants to the United States from Italy, I was raised with Regional Italian Cuisine at my grandparents' kitchen table.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

I’ve traveled the world, from Italy to France, Australia to Canada, learning from people who are experts in their field. Creating art from raw materials — it’s the passion that provides the magic that makes great food.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?

At the time I started my culinary journey 25 years ago, being a professional Chef wasn’t a popular thing to do. After finishing culinary school at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, I moved to Maui, Hawaii to work at Roy’s Restaurant, then back to Santa Monica, California to work at the Border Grill.

I then set out on an adventure that would change my life and also teach me the valuable lessons of getting through some difficult times through Faith and hard work. I moved to Italy to go to another culinary school. After finishing my culinary program, I worked throughout the country as a line cook in a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants, where they would provide me an apartment to live in and I ate all my food at the restaurants, but I worked for free. Living in a country where I didn’t speak the language and working for free for the whole year, taught me the values of hard work and perseverance.

In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?

I believe creating ‘layers of flavor’ in a dish is the key to making a delicious dish that customers will crave time and time again.

Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?

I am inspired by many things culinary wise….cookbooks, life experiences, dining out, the Farmers Market. I would say that I am inspired to cook dishes with the bounty of what each season brings.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?

We are working on a new ‘Pop-Up’ Dinner Project in our show kitchen located upstairs from our restaurant in our Private Event Center that will be a progressive and elevated Tasting Menu format with 12-courses of amazing food and wine!

What advice would you give to other chefs to thrive and avoid burnout?

“If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life”

Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Surround yourself with hard working/passionate people — I am fortunate to have a team that loves what they do. Some of us have worked together for 20+ years in the industry!
  2. Life Balance — My girlfriend and I have 4 boys at home, and spending time with them is very important to me.
  3. Never stop learning — Keep current with cutting edge techniques while maintaining core values of classical cooking.
  4. Teach others to be better than you — In sharing everything you know, it pushes you to continue to learn more.
  5. Remember who helped you along the way — Live day-to-day those life lesson taught to you by your mentors, and respect the time and effort they invested in you.

What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?

There are so many dishes to choose from…. but I would say our Robbins Island Tasmanian Wagyu Beef Carpaccio with White Alba Clamshells Mushrooms, Wild Arugula, Black Truffles & Pecorino Romano. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever had.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Cooking is an opportunity to learn not only about nutrition but also safety, patience, planning, science and math! Cooking requires persistence, and an opportunity to learn from mistakes. It is a valuable life skill that should be more available to children. I’d love to be a part of a bigger movement to help make this a reality.

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