David Craig’s food has been called, “divine,” “devastatingly rich,” and “unexpected.” And that’s just from one article. I would go further, however, to state that those are each wonderfully apt descriptions of the man himself.
David’s love of food started when he was just a boy in Dundee, Scotland. Both his Grandmothers were excellent cooks and his Mother’s Uncle owned a bakery. As he grew into manhood, David found himself drifting toward the idea of cooking professionally. After receiving his three year degree from a small school in his hometown and working in a Scottish restaurant for a year thereafter, a friend of David’s convinced him to, “Come on down to the big smoke.” In other words, David packed his bags for London.
Once there, David fell in love with and married an American woman. While working in a high-end regional Italian restaurant in London’s theater district, a chef saw his promise and sent him to culinary school at Westminster Catering College. After completing his degree, David and his wife then moved to Cyprus before she began to express her desire to return home to West Virginia. Soon after, David found himself in the States.
A Chef Rises
And then, the incredible happened. After a chance meeting with Chef superstar Roberto Donna, David got a cooking job at “Pesce” in Washington, DC which was a joint-venture between Donna and Jean-Louis Palladin. David recounts meeting Regine Palladin who he says helped him develop his pallet. “You name the famous culinary individual and she knew them or had eaten their food or they were good friends. I had this resource at my disposal so I used it.” After Mrs. Palladin opened his culinary mind, David started exploring different taste and texture combinations, “I just changed it up. I opened my mind and everything just exploded.” It exploded so much in fact that David went on to open his own restaurant, “David Craig Bethesda.” After a series of incredible reviews and truly memorable experiences as a restaurant chef/owner, David faced yet another life-altering decision.
A New Home
In 2008, David moved to Champaign, Illinois to be closer to his daughters who followed David’s ex-wife to the area after their divorce. He got a job at a local restaurant with a long-term friend, but found the lack of professionalism hard to manage. In angst over the situation David called a number on a business card he had received a few months prior. College Chefs’ Owner Kevin Gadus answered the line and he’s been with the company ever since.
A Poetic Soul
But all that’s just history. What’s really interesting and endearing about David is his soul. And through all the wonderful food memories and experiences he was kind enough to share with me, the ones that really lit him up weren’t the ones that brought him accolades and allowed him to rub elbows with some of the most famous chefs in the world. What made David happy were memories like the following:
David admits he sometimes gets homesick for Scotland, which he calls an “old, damp, miserable country.” In particular, his last trip to Scotland seems to hold a particular weight in his heart, during which he and his ex-wife threw a surprise 40th wedding anniversary party for his mother and father, “We got in touch with all the living members of my parents’ wedding party…and hired this hotel in this little village they were living in and we threw this big party. This was the same hotel my parents and I had had this lovely dinner in after I graduated culinary school. They were entirely unaware. Their faces dropped. It took my mother a minute to realize who all these people were, she just thought they were people from the hotel."
David says this with the coy smile of a boy, reveling in the gotcha moment as if it had just happened yesterday. But it’s not all memories with David. What he believes about the work he does today is just as interesting as his memories of the work he did yesterday.
When asked why he thinks what College Chefs does is important, David had this to say, “The low level of institutional food that’s been fed to these young people just hasn’t been conducive to much. If we give people the nutrition they require then they’re more apt to perform well.” And, despite an occasional messy kitchen or two, David’s found working with these young people to be a joy.
Two other topics seemed to really make David light up. First, his favorite food memory is the first time he tasted Foie Gras, a fact which was relayed along with that soft smile one gets the first time they taste something completely incredible – as if just saying the word “Foie Gras” was enough to inspire David to actually taste it.
Second, David thinks one of the most beautiful places in the world is the Island of Mykonos, Greece. He fell in love there and his description of the island is so vivid, so wonderfully sensual that one can’t help but be immersed in the place through him. “Fresh fish and octopus. The smell of charcoal and olive oil. Greek wine and feta cheese. The wild mountain herbs that grow there in the summer are so pungent, you know? And one of the things I loved was that in the winter time the water would be choppy and opaque. And in the Spring it got clearer. By the time it was June or July it was just clear blue. It just makes you realize that there are things around you that are so much bigger than you are.”
David Craig works as a Chef serving houses in central Illinois.