Don Warfe was born in California, but as a military kid he moved around a lot, lived in Japan, and eventually his family came to Dayton where his grandparents lived. He grew up always cooking and while working at Buddkan, a fine dining restaurant in Philly that featured Asian fusion cuisine, he realized that food was truly his passion. He had found his career and moved from restaurant to restaurant to grow his skills, including a stint in upstate New York, five years with Fleming’s and then became part of an opening team at a Colorado eatery where he served as an Executive Chef.
It was at this job that Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares reached out to him and asked him to consult with them on a few episodes. On the show he’d help introduce new menu items and help work with the kitchen crew to ensure success. Chef Don would then stick around after the TV crew left, for a few weeks to to stabilize the new menu, train the front and back of the house staff and ended up staying at one of the featured restaurants for almost a year.
After a working hundred hour weeks for years, he needed a break. He came back to Dayton to visit his family and decided to stay for a while .He had a friend that worked at the Trolley Stop and they were looking to rework their food offerings. Chef Don was hired as a consultant to bring fresh, locally sourced dishes and greater variety to their menu. And while he was transforming the menu at this Oregon District business, there was a lady transforming his life. Chef Don fell in love with Mindy and her son Theo and will be getting married soon.
While still running the kitchen at Trolley Stop, he’s also taken on a side job, consulting with Mike Schwartz, of Belmont Party Supply, on his new joint coming to Centerville, Ollie’s Place. A long time in planning, Mike’s new venture will be a tap room, whiskey bar and carryout. Chef Don is writing the menu, designing their kitchen and training their staff. Look for it to open in April with 60 beers on tap and “awesome food, ” according to Warfe.
And between both jobs, Chef Don took time to answer our 10 questions:
1. What is your favorite ingredient to cook with?
This varies seasonally. I love using local ingredients. The local pork shoulder that I get from KJB Farms always makes me happy.
2. What ingredient do you dread?
Salt and Pepper. Just kidding. I’m not a fan of using processed foods. I really don’t like using Chicken Base.
3. What’s your favorite dish to make?
I love making so many different dishes. I love to cook fish and just about any meat. I really enjoy making Paella.
4. What’s your favorite pig out food?
My special lady and I love to make antipasti boards and pig out late at night sometimes. It’s pretty amusing what items can end up on the board. It’s interactive and so much fun to share the experience together. It can range from smoked herring to chile chocolate to spicy kimchi. It’s pretty personal so I won’t say anything else about it.
5. What restaurant, other than your own do you like to dine at in the Miami Valley?
I feel like I haven’t dined out very much in Dayton. There are still a lot of restaurants that I am waiting to go try. I really like Little Saigon.
6. What’s your best advice for home chefs?
I would suggest that home chefs go to the local farmer’s market. It’s such an advantage for your cooking. You’re supporting local economy, using fresh quality ingredients that are better for you and ultimately taste better. I would also suggest that people have fun cooking. Take a recipe and make it your own.
7. If you could invite any 4 guests to a dinner party who would they be and why?
Anthony Bourdain. Because he knows food and travel. I would love to hear the stories he could tell after a few drinks at the table.
Alice Waters. Again, I would love to sit there and just humbly listen to her experiences and enjoy a meal with her.
Christopher Walken. His voice at the dinner table. I would ask him to read all of our books out loud.
My grandmother, because I miss her very much. And of course Mindy would be right beside me serving as my c0- hostess for our dinner party.
8. Who do you look up to in the industry and why?
Thomas Keller, because his cuisine seems so true. He is so ingredient driven and a master in this field. He has been a major influence on chefs today to embrace local ingredients from farms, fisherman, and gardens. His techniques are so sound and quality driven. I don’t know any chefs that aren’t inspired when they open The French Laundry Cookbook.
9. What do you do in the Miami Valley on a day off?
Never the same thing. I love spending time with my ‘soon to be’ wife and her son. We play games in the park, or in the grocery store, or in the book store, or in the house. I enjoy having dinner with my family and relaxing. I’m currently reading all the volumes of the graphic novel, The Walking Dead, and watching Twin Peaks episodes.
10. Share a kitchen disaster, lucky break or other interesting story:
Lucky Break: I was contacted by Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares to work as a chef consultant on the show in Colorado. It was my job to train restaurant staff their new menu and teach them how to function properly as a restaurant. They asked me to be on film for my last episode and it was a thrill to work with one of my favorite chefs. This also answers the kitchen disaster part of this question. Before the transformation, there were some pretty bad practices in place.