What makes a great chef? Talent and creativity, of course, and always at least a dash of passion. The must-have ingredient, however, eludes taste or presentation and simmers from a deeper area of experience in the industry. It’s that which life measures, not a spoon or a cup, and what David Gutowski accounts for his journey and success as an executive chef in Beaver Creek.
It’s work ethic
“If you want something, work hard and go get it,” says Gutowski. “I did it—I’m a perfect example. You can thrive in this town; it may cost you a powder day.” And that’s not to say that Gutowski doesn’t get out and enjoy thigh-deep turns on his snowboard when he can carve out the time. He moved to the mountains for his love of the sport, but now as a full-time executive chef with a house, a family and all the expenses that go along with it, Gutowski says it about setting priorities and developing a sustainable balance.
Originally from Peekskill, right outside of New York City, Gutowski worked as a restaurant dishwasher and a prep cook during his teenage years, then as a gar- bage man after high school to save money for his next endeavor—culinary school.
“My mom was definitely big on instilling a work ethic,” he says. “She was the one who encouraged me to get a job when I was about 13. She was the kindof person who said, ‘If you want it, go get it.’ If you’re waiting for someone to go get it for you, you’re going to be waiting for a long time.”
Now 39, when Gutowski was 19 years old he moved to Telluride, during an externship from the Culi- nary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. “I had never been to Colorado, and I love to snow- board,” he shares. “I had a great winter out in Tellu- ride working for a talented chef. Then I went back to school and finished.”
Gutowski had just graduated, when Vail Resorts had a career fair at the Culinary Institute. After meeting with them, he began planning his East Coast departure, intent on making his way back to the Rocky Mountains for a kitchen position at Beano’s Cabin in Beaver Creek.
“When I moved out here, I had $200 and that’s it,” he says. “And the deposit for my apartment was $200, so I literally had no money. It was a week before I started work, and two weeks before a paycheck, so I took all the change out of my ashtray, bought a big bag of black beans, and ate that every day for three weeks.” And then he worked to build a life. Almost 20 years later, Gutowski has run some of the best kitchens in the valley.
“It all works out if you want to put forth the effort and not wait for it to just fall in your lap,” he says. “You make your own future.” And with a wife and two kids, a home and two cars, Gutowski’s future is his priority.
It was during those years when Gutowski worked at Beano’s that he met one of this biggest mentors of hiscareer—David Clark. “He ended up changing my whole life,” shares Gutowski. “He could handle anything and you couldn’t surprise him. That’s definitely what I picked up from him—have a plan and be confident and, yeah, we can get it done. We can take care of it no matter what.”
Gutowski says Clark, who passed away in 2011, was a legend in Beaver Creek. They had worked togetherat The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch when it opened in 2002.
“I really loved him,” Gutowski says. “He took me under his wing and looked out for me.”
Gutowski often traveled around the country to other Ritz-Carlton properties to help where it was needed. Places like New Orleans, where he lived and worked at The Ritz-Carlton on BourbonStreet for awhile.
“It was one of those things,” he says. “You know it was a smart move, and you look back on it and think ‘thank god I did that.’ Thankgoodness I took advantage of those opportunities.” As much as he enjoyed the temporary jobs in new areas, Gutowski wasn’t willing to take a job outside of the Vail Valley to move up in the company. He had just met a girl—his now-wife, Jaimie—and he really liked living here. So he changed jobs, but it was one more move until he found what would be his home kitchen for the next 12 years. He was working at what was then Trimani, when he got a call from the manager at Grouse Mountain Grill. They were looking for a souschef. Gutowski got the job and after two years he was promoted to executive chef.
“I always came in and put forth an effort,” he says. “I always tried and just worked really hard. Because I’m not the most talented—so ifyou’re not the most talented than you need to make up for it some- where else.” Contemporary-style cooking along with regional focus is what, over the years, Gutowski and his kitchen staff have always perfected. “I love the creativity aspect of it,” says Gutowski about being a chef, “and the fact that you’re on your feet and moving around. It’s some- thing so personal—preparing food for people—because they are going to eat it; they are going to consume it.”
Gutowski stays inspired by eating at other restaurants, as well as researching cuisine in books and on Instagram.
“I have a pad in my office where I just write down random things that pop into my head throughout the day, throughout the month, throughout the year,” he says. “I also have notes on my iPhone. So when it comes time to write a menu, I can always look back.”For Gutowski, hard and innovative work is very important, but he always keeps people a priority. “What’s important to me is that all my guys succeed,” he says, about those who have been his kitchen crew. “I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished and I love my life, and I hope that they have that same thing. It’s more important to me than anything else that they have that same success. I know how much other people helped me along the way, and I just want to repay that to the world.” And, of course, from their annual apple picking adventures to cutting down the perfect Christmas tree, Gutowski’s family always comes first.
In fact, as Gutowski tells it, “About six years ago, when first son, David, was born, I had a picture in my head of a dog and me and David standing in some high grass and we were bird hunting. I had neverbird-hunted and but I thought, it would be cool to do something like that with him. At the time, we wanted a dog and thought that we might as well get a bird-dog so I could train him to go hunting. And that’s the way it all began. Then we had our second son, Marco. “I know of many people who have some type of family tradition. And I like that idea. I think bird-hunting could be a great tradition for me and the boys. For instance, as they grow older and go their own way, we can always meet up, say, in South Dakota and go hunting. “I just want to be a great dad,” he says. “Because I think when I die, I’m not going to look back on halibut, I’m gonna look back on my kids.”