Chef David Welch paused for a second during his interview Thursday morning to sniff and squeeze a loaf of bread, fresh from the oven. He smiled and nodded approval to his sous chef, who went off to make sure there was enough for the day.
The bread - baked every day - is just one of the menu components made fresh in-house by Welch and his crew at Food Hedz World Cafe in Frisco. At the soon-to-be 8-year-old establishment, tucked away in Frisco Station, it's a love of food that drives the business - hence the name.
Welch, who runs and owns the restaurant with his wife, Patti, has 34 years of experience in the industry. His started out as a dishwasher at the age of 17, and ended up training under a French master chef, who gave him a little bit of advice: "It's not the money, the glamour or the hours ... it's the love of food."
And Welch does love the food. So much so, that at his previous job as executive chef at The Keystone Ranch, he found himself wanting to make sure that level of cuisine was available to everyone.
"Summit County was culinarily deprived of great quality at a great price ... I'd been looking to do this for a long time," Welch said. "I honestly believe you don't need to be an affluent diner driving a Mercedes to enjoy good food."
Welch describes his menu as "well-rounded with eclectic influences." The summer menu includes a green chile relleno, a Korean beef and red curry, roast breast of Amish chicken and a saute of fresh Alaskan halibut. Specials can range from a meat loaf on one day, a red Thai curry on another, and maybe even a Creole dish. Welch says it's everything "from Thailand to the heartland."
"Each item has its own identity, its own background," Welch said. "Personally, I want the discipline and the challenge."
The ingredients are as local and as organically sourced as possible - Welch works with a Colorado farmer who plants whatever the chef wants - and when they can't be, he flies them in through his numerous contacts from all over the world, which he obtained throughout his 34 years in the business. He'll talk to his fish guy in Hawaii, who calls Welch up as he's bidding on the docks one morning, and then has it at the Food Hedz' door the next.
It's not just Welch. The whole culinary team there loves to eat, he said. He and the sous chef both have their own greenhouses, and will share their picks with excitement as produce pops up. It's an important part of being good steward of the industry - Welch said that after over 30 years, if you can't pick up a tomato, smell it, and absolutely love the scent, then you've lost it. The chef works eight to 11 hours every day, and can't imagine retiring.
"I've been in it for 34 years, and I think I'm more passionate about it than I was then," Welch said. "If I don't have my hands on the food, I'll explode. I love to cook."
Because when someone walks through the door and into the 35-seat dining room - decorated with antique tables, wooden, mismatched chairs, no tablecloths and original art, "all the influence is in the food," Welch said - that's what they want to see, right? The head chef and owner, making sure everything is perfect, and catered to the diner's needs (even vegans and gluten-free folks still have a palate, Welch said. "Don't offend it.").
And while he loves to cook, Welch also loves being able to see the customer's eyes light up from his open kitchen when their plates are placed in front of them. And then, when they come back, it's even more of a compliment.
"To me, that's it right there," Welch said.