Chris Lenza is the executive chef of Café Allegro at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, one of Bon Appétit’s regional foragers, and a member of the company’s Plant-Forward Culinary Collaborative working group.
Who is the most special or exciting person you’ve cooked for?
My grandfather Reggie. I have been blessed to cook for celebrity chefs, actors, actresses, musicians, and politicians across the country, but my grandfather’s tasting dinner — that I personally created the menu and cooked for him and his daughter (my mother) — was definitely the most special. He was a chef, owned and operated diners and Italian restaurants in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. When he retired, he committed to helping my mom raise my brothers and me. At the young age of five, I was standing on kitchen chairs to reach the cutting boards and began to learn how to roll gnocchi, fry eggs, pasta dough, meatballs, tripe, and roast chicken.
He never intended for me to become a chef: it just happened. So in his later years, I was the chef at an Italian restaurant and opened the restaurant early for dinner so he and my mom could enjoy a seven-course tasting menu. In his time of cooking, this was not very common. Every course that I brought out, his grin became bigger and bigger and he became overwhelmed with joy, he couldn’t hide it. He told me that “he never heard of such a thing” as a tasting menu with so many courses of small bites. He talked about that experience with family and friends for as long as I remember.
What makes you most proud to work at Bon Appétit?
Bon Appétit has elevated my knowledge as executive chef, and taught me to be thoughtful of my employees, operate as a diverse kitchen, and be concerned about the safety of my employees and myself. Work-life balance is always a positive, since now I have a family to spend time with. Our training classes, like “Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em” on employee retention, have taught me a lot about building and leading a strong team. I have always been fond of purchasing initiatives, human resource development training, commitments to health and wellness, and Imperfectly Delicious Produce programs, just to name a few. Having all of these sources at my fingertips has assisted me to become a more diverse and effective executive chef.
How do you see chefs using their craft to make a positive impact?
I use my craft to educate our guests by providing meals that are nutritious, healthy, balanced, creative, fun, and delicious. I enjoy telling our guests the story behind our food, for example, which farm grew the produce, how I helped harvest these onions, the seasonal ingredients that are in the entrées, and the distance of those farms from the restaurant.
I am also involved in our community through volunteering in public schools, educating children through cooking demonstrations and workshops. On an environmental level, I use my position to cut down on food waste through Imperfectly Delicious Produce purchasing and donating food leftovers to community food banks. Also, we as chefs can make a positive impact through careful food sourcing, such as menuing more plant-forward foods and relying on the Seafood Watch program, animals raised without antibiotics, local food purchasing, rBGH-free milk, cage-free hens, farmworker rights, pork raised without gestation crates. Overall, the experience has been enjoyable and rewarding.