Making the Grade
Chef Joe Damonte regularly dishes up epicurean delights for a cast of thousands as executive chef at the Keystone Conference Center. And while he’s coordinating oysters Rockefeller for 1,500, or orchestrating an authentic Cajun buffet for 600, he’s also training the next generation of Colorado’s culinary leaders.In Damonte’s role at the conference center, he doubles as an instructor for the Colorado Mountain College Culinary Institute at Keystone, which gives aspiring chefs hands-on instruction throughout the mountain resort’s professional kitchens. Damonte draws on 22 years of experience in the food and beverage business, where he worked his way to the top from humble beginnings as a dishwasher.Damonte is also dedicated to daily training of his staff, which hasn’t escaped the notice of the program’s students: They have voted him the resort’s Chef of the Year the past three years in a row.
Motivation: The individual feedback is motivating. I was a mentor for one individual who was with me for about five months. He worked at a high level in my kitchen, so I had him promoted to a sous chef position for the resort in Breckenridge. He’s in his third year, and he’s already a supervisor. He’s going to be a very successful chef in Colorado.Inspiration: (Cooking) is in my blood. My cousin owned restaurants in Italy. My mom always home-cooked. It was something I was good at – I had a natural knack.
Accomplishments: My family is a huge accomplishment. That means the most. Getting Chef of the Year three times in a row was really motivating. Being able to lead water ice III has been a huge accomplishment too.
Role model: Malti Britlow, one of the first chefs I worked with, was a family man and an executive chef. He was very professional in how he ran the place.If I had $100,000: I would definitely put it toward educational tours, like going to the Paris Food Show. I’d learn a ton myself, taking the class to something like that.My students would be surprised to know: My leg is fully tattooed, which they wouldn’t know, because I always have pants on. I have a dragon, a tiger and a Foo dog. They’re all Chinese zodiac symbols that are protectors of the family.
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