Volta chef Chris Canales on more all-you-can-eat pizza and free food for all
This is part one of my interview with Chris Canales; part two of my chat with Canales will run tomorrow.
Volta, with its sophisticated menu, swank interior and elegant al fresco courtyard, is far from the world where executive chef Chris Canales grew up in Fullerton, California. "We didn't have a lot of things, we didn't go out to dinner very often, and we didn't have much money, but my mom and aunts, all of whom are 100 percent Mexican -- not to mention awesome cooks -- always made up for it by having really, really good food, even if it was just a pot of beans and tortillas," says Canales, who started cooking at thirteen as a way to put some cash in his pocket.
A friend of the family, the owner of an Italian restaurant, "offered me a job as a dishwasher and busser, and he also offered me a free pizza to take home after every shift, which was a deal that I couldn't pass up," recalls Canales, who spent his teen years ladder-stepping up the line at that restaurant. "By the time I was fifteen, I'd had three years of cooking experience, and I was doing well and realized that I was good at it -- and over time, I just got better and better."
But despite the money he was collecting -- and the free pizzas -- Canales wasn't interested in becoming a chef. "I was sweating my ass off at work and going to school, and back then, in the '80s and '90s, there was no glamour in being a chef. We were just cooks coming up from the ranks and paying our dues, and it was hard work," he says.
Still, the longer he cooked, the larger the paychecks became, and as Canales watched his friends mow lawns, he slowly warmed to the idea of cooking professionally. "I guess I was around nineteen or so, and I knew that I needed to start taking something seriously -- that there might be a future for me in this industry," he remembers. "So I kinda just decided to develop my skills and technique and bounced around California a bit, working in different restaurants."
In 2000, Canales moved to Beaver Creek -- though not only to pursue cooking. "I wanted to ride my snowboard, and when you're poor, the best way to get in a season of snowboarding is to work at the resort," says Canales, who got a line-cook gig at Toscanini, where he was later promoted to sous-chef.
He left after three years for a cooking intermission in San Luis Obispo, but when the economy started to tank, so did the restaurant scene, so Canales, who had since tied the knot, returned to Colorado with his wife, moving to Nederland so he could be close to a good skate park. "That was the deciding factor -- a skate park -- because I have to be near someplace good to ride," he explains. But he also needed a job, which he found at the now-closed Gold Lake Resort, in Ward. "They went through hack after hack after hack, but for a while, the owners let us do things the right way: We had our own greenhouse; we had goats that we'd bought from Haystack Mountain, so we were doing our own cheese and yogurt; we had chickens and our own eggs; we even had our own turkeys," says Canales, who departed when the lodge was purchased by new owners, who offered him the chance to stage for a line-cook stint...or get laid off.