Introducing Sous Chef Dana Woodward. With a team like ours, everyone plays an intricate role, and we're proud to present Chef Dana.
Let the questions begin.........
Q: Where are you from?
A: I'm from upstate New York. I grew up in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, where it's frozen 4 to 5 months and really hot in the summer months. There are a lot of dairy farms (ever heard of Cabot Creamery?) and apple orchards. Eating a sun-warmed apple right from the tree in an orchard surrounded by mountains is an experience I wish possible for everyone! My west coast equivalent was visiting the Masumoto Family Farm and eating their peaches- instead of wet grass under my feet there was a formidable amount of dust.
Q: How'd you get into restaurants? What was the attraction?
A: I first started cooking during summers between college semesters. It was fun, kept me busy and the people were vibrant, fascinating and full of an energy I truly identified with. It also put money in my pocket so I could do things and buy stuff. When I graduated with a BS in Ecology, I did a brief stint on an organic beef farm; I hated it and jumped right back into kitchens.
Q: How long have you been at Waterbar?
A: 2.5 years.
Q: What's been the biggest challenge doing what you do?
A: What's the quote from A League of their Own? "The hard is what makes it good, if it was easy then everyone would be doing it." I think that's it. One constant challenge for me has been pushing myself professionally while still trying to strike a balance in the rest of my life. It's really hard to care about something, because when you care about something it can be ruined and you can have your heart broken. My tendency to dive headfirst into the things I'm passionate about; whether it be music, food, relationships work or art- it has at times left me defeated. But again, "the hard is what makes it good".... right?
When I got serious about cooking, I worked my way up amongst the North Country good ol' boys, went to the best culinary school in the country, then moved 3,000 miles away to San Francisco and dropped out. Cooking is one of a few trades you can still learn from just doing it, and it's never a bad idea to put your head down and learn from people who know more than you. Coming from kitchens where I've seen other female line cooks' applications go directly into the trash because "we already have a girl" has inevitably made me want to see more women succeed on the hot line. We're in an age now where cooking isn't necessarily a hierarchy of machismo anymore, and seeing my demographic represented as pioneering and succeeding is awesome. I can walk down the street to kitchens run by Nancy Oaks and Pam Mazzola..... that's pretty cool. I'm really fortunate to live in a city with so many kick-ass female role models, and I hope to be able to be that person for aspiring young women someday.
The hours are long and sometimes my body hurts. But, I've never once walked into a kitchen with the thought, " I don't want to be here." Work is only work if you don't love it. And I love it.
Q: What's your best memory here?
A: It was right before Christmas nearly a year after I moved here; it was going to be my first Christmas away from home (after having spent Thanksgiving away as well, I was pretty bent up about it). I was working the wood fire oven that night, and we were going to be closed for the next two days. Chef had me cook off all of our par-cooked crabs and lobsters for the line at the end of the night. Butter, rosemary, lemon and smoke... it was a pretty awesome feast, shared with my kitchen family, who are very special to me. Fire-roasted shellfish and commensality helped to soothe my homesick belly.
Q: What are you up to lately?
A: Banquets!!!!! Four to five days a week I'm upstairs in Private Dining. I get to write new menus literally everyday, and take on the challenge of providing mass quantities of high quality provisions. It's very fun and very exciting. Casey Hunt, our Special Events Manager, is a total boss and I love working with her. It's always rewarding to work with people who share the same passion and drive.
Q: Plans for the future?
A: Immediate future? I'm working with our Purchasing Manager Eric Hyman to get the rooftop garden back up and running. Long term? I have met so many wonderfully strange people in this line of work and kitchens have done so much for me in regards to my personal growth and purpose.... it makes me want to pay it forward somehow. Integrating at-risk youth and a vocational cooking program is something I could see myself doing when my back and knees can no longer handle a 14 hour work day.
We love it!