Chris Cina, exec chef of Hideaway Steakhouse, on being a goof in the kitchen, the day he made a bride cry and the ups and downs of opening a new restaurant
This is part one of my interview with Chris Cina, executive chef of Hideaway Steakhouse. Part two of that interview will run in this space tomorrow.
Chris Cina wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth, didn't have a career handed to him on a silver platter -- and the first hat that graced his little head certainly wasn't a toque. "My sister and I were latchkey kids growing up in Philadelphia, and we were always hungry, so we messed around in the kitchen, but we made simple stuff like eggs, sandwiches and boxes of Stove Top, only because I could read the directions," jokes Cina. His cooking training was limited to watching Jack Tripper on Three's Company. "I thought that the coolest thing about being a chef was the fact that Jack lived with two female roommates," he recalls.
But it wasn't long before Cina, now the executive chef of Hideaway Steakhouse, found himself in a professional kitchen. "My dad bought me a car when I was fifteen, but I had to pay the insurance, which meant that I had to get a job, and, as luck would have it, my best friend's uncle had a restaurant, so my first restaurant gig was as a dishwasher," remembers Cina, who quickly moved up to pantry and, eventually, the grill station.
Cina had aspirations of going to college and becoming a writer, but he admits that he "didn't give a shit about school" and had the grades to prove it, graduating near the bottom of his high school class. "I was having a lot more fun in the kitchen than in school," he says, "and even though I did well on my SATs and went ahead and applied to college anyway, they all said I had the aptitude but not the attitude."
But he had both the aptitude and the attitude to get into the Culinary Institute of America, as well as the fortitude to graduate. It was 1992, and "San Francisco was the place to be at the time, what with Alice Waters, the whole farm-to-table movement, fresh produce and restaurants that were revered," he says. So he jumped in the car, put the pedal to the metal and sped down the freeway toward the City by the Bay -- but he only got as far as Denver before he ran out of gas and money.
Cina ended up spending several years in the Mile High City, working everywhere from the Wellshire Inn -- where "plates were chicken at six o'clock, rice at ten o'clock and veg at two o'clock, always zucchini," he remembers -- to the now-defunct Bistro 100, Zenith, Aubergine Cafe and the Fourth Story. But eventually he made his way to San Francisco, cooking at Stars restaurant in Palo Alto, and then to Europe. Finally, he returned to Colorado, where he was the executive chef at the Ameristar Casino in Black Hawk before opening his own space, Hideaway Steakhouse, in late March.
"We've had some issues here with the opening, very common issues that every restaurant experiences when they open," admits Cina. "Guests have left here less than impressed, vowing never to return, whether due to service or food quality or expectations, but we've also had people who were blown away that a restaurant like this could exist up north and deliver the goods. It's a work in progress and takes time."
While stretching out in the bar of his new temple to the steer, Cina chats about opening the restaurant, being a goof in the kitchen and the wedding where he made the bride cry.