Author: Charlotte Evans
Executive Chef Duane Jose joins DragonRidge Country Club after years of working in some of the finest kitchens on the Las Vegas Strip and around the world. He has opened major restaurants and corporate dining operations while honing his skills under world-renowned chefs such as David Haines and Michelin Star Iron Chef Akira Back. As Executive Chef, Duane Jose brings his passion for cultivating people at a time when the club (already known for superb dining) is undergoing rapid growth. He sat down with DragonRidge Communications Director Charlotte Evans for a look at what he has on the on the burners for this bourgeoning operation.
At what point did you know you wanted to be a chef?
When I was a boy, I saw my mom drop an egg into a saucepan, I started asking a lot of questions, and I was hooked. I learned how to poach an egg, sauté an egg, and every other way to cook one.
I understand you were a military brat. Did living in many places influence your cooking?
Absolutely. My first job was in a Sushi restaurant in Japan, where I learned the basics of Sushi. As a teenager in Guam, I worked at Denny’s. Back then, the cooks would literally throw their burned pans at us to clean. I remember looking at the pots and pans and thinking, (he chuckles) I’m going to be so much better at this than that person. Every time I go somewhere, I do believe that I can do it better, and I will.
What helped you stay the course in your career?
You never stop learning and teaching. I’m 46 now, so I’ve been doing this for two decades. I didn’t change careers because I never let myself get complacent. I love the culinary world so much that I never stop. Even at home, I love to teach my kids how to cook. Sometimes they even teach me stuff because of the internet nowadays.
What advice would you give other Chefs?
Manage your staff in a way that makes them happy and wanting to come to work. Get them involved with everything. Always say “Hi” to them every single day, not [to be] telling them what you need but asking them what they need. I keep an open-door policy. I will do anything I can to help my staff. Little things go a long way. Letting people know you care about them builds loyalty. Before I go home, I say goodbye to everybody and tell them they did a wonderful job. I really mean that. Everybody does do a wonderful job.
How many children do you have?
Three of mine and two with my wife, so a total of five. I’m about to be a Granddaddy! My wife and I went to high school together in Japan and reconnected years later in Washington state.
The name “Duane Jose” sounds like a celebrity name. Is that your original name?
That’s my straight-up name. My whole name is – Duane Fletcher Bautista Jose. My wife and I are Filipino-American. Her mom was in the United States Army, and my dad was in the United States Navy.
I understand you first came to Vegas to help open TAO restaurant on the Strip.
Yes, I was a Lead Cook. It was fun there. Right after that, I got a break when David Haines (then Executive Chef of Stack Restaurant owned by Light Group) hired me to become a Sous Chef. As my mentor, he taught me to go out and learn all types of foods. So, I “staged,” meaning I worked without pay as an apprentice on the Strip. I worked everywhere, from Aqua Blue in MGM to Michael Mena in Bellagio. You work for free. Whenever they needed help with a shift, I jumped on board because I didn’t have money to pay for culinary schooling.
When did you meet your next mentor, Akira Back?
I met Akira Back when he was opening Yellowtail in Bellagio. At the same time, he was doing the show Iron Chef. If you haven’t seen him on Iron Chef, you should watch that. In my opinion, he won! As a mentor, Akira helped me a lot. He and I have kept in touch through the years. He has been there for me any time I needed advice, both personal and professional.
What was his best career advice?
Never do shortcuts, always be honest and stay consistent. Keep your loyalty.
Any hints about what you plan to bring to DragonRidge?
In the Montrose, I want to start doing theme nights, like a Sushi Night, a Steak Night, or even a Baked Potato Bar. Who doesn’t love baked potatoes? I love baked potatoes, especially with barbequed pulled pork and all the fixins! I also want to bring more healthy options and Vegan food. At the new Fitness Center Café, my goal is to do a lot of nice “grab n go” cups, like hummus cups with cheese and crackers, some parfaits, and some Sushi to go. Maybe we’ll offer a flatbread we prepare with instructions on how to cook it that people can take home with them. Even the Snack Bar may see new offerings like house-made corn dogs, which are a lot easier to eat while playing golf.
Any other hints about what you are planning as Executive Chef?
I want Members to be involved, so I am going to put a to put out a huge flip paper where they can write down what they want. Most of the time, we’ll be able to accommodate it. We all are going to have fun while making great food.