Diane Snider, chef of Row 14, on hiring the smart ones
This is part one of my interview with Diane Snider, exec chef of Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar; part two of our chat will run tomorrow.
Diane Snider had her first food epiphany in the sixth grade, hundreds of miles away from her birthplace of Oahu, Hawaii. "I went to Tennessee for the summer with my best friend, and the family I stayed with farmed all of their own food, which was such a surreal experience for me, because at that age, all I knew was food that came out of a box, or looking for recipes in cookbooks, and this was the first time that I'd ever experienced food that was all made from scratch," remembers Snider, today the executive chef at Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar.
That memory never strayed far from her mind, and when she was sixteen, Snider got more food for thought. "I had a friend who had just graduated from culinary school, and every time I asked him about it, I became more and more fascinated, and once I started researching culinary schools on my own, I was even more intrigued," says Snider, who attended the California Culinary Academy and spent close to four years on the line at Globe, a fast-paced, late-night industry favorite in San Francisco.
On her nights off she'd go out to dinner, and an experience at A16, one of San Francisco's most ballyhooed restaurants, convinced her to switch kitchens. "I went there for a graduation celebration, and every bite of food I had was so amazingly delicious, which made me really work to work there, plus Nate Appleman was the chef de cuisine at the time, and I thought I'd have the opportunity to learn a lot from him," says Snider, whose prediction was correct. Appleman, a James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef winner, "would spend morning, noon and night at the restaurant, and he was so passionate about food and willing to teach his craft to those who wanted to learn. I'd ask him questions all the time, and he never, never got annoyed," recalls Snider.
But the pace was slow -- at least compared to her former stamping ground -- and so Snider, who admits that she likes "getting my ass kicked on the line," returned to Globe. "The kitchen at A16 was so organized -- and I mean that in a good way -- but because everything was so well put together, it almost felt like a retirement home for cooks, and I missed the nonstop grind and chaos at Globe: I thrive in that kind of environment," says Snider, who eventually left Globe -- and San Francisco -- to move to Denver in 2006.
She landed first at the Flagstaff House, but when she found that the commute from Denver to Boulder stole too many hours from her day, she moved on to the now-defunct Aix, where she cooked for a year before landing at Root Down. Still relatively new to Denver, Snider began researching chefs -- and restaurants -- and came across a swell of accolades surrounding Troy Guard, who was just opening TAG, his flagship restaurant in Larimer Square. "Troy is from Hawaii, so we have similar backgrounds, and I was just really interested in what he was doing," says Snider, who became the second person Guard hired to work the line at TAG. "In the three years I was there, he taught me so much, including patience and management skills."