Dec. 22--BILOXI -- He's cooked for presidents, kings and renowned chef Julia Child's 80th birthday party, and now Chef Peter D'Andrea is in South Mississippi as the new executive chef at IP Casino Resort.
He's been in Biloxi for about three months and already has made his mark, updating menus and adding quality.
"We have a lot of plans," he said.
He brings 40 years of experience in food and beverage to Biloxi -- years he spent in New York restaurants, training under some of the finest chefs, and cooking in Asia, the Middle East and all over the world.
It's been an incredible journey for an Italian kid from the Bronx, N.Y., where he said, "To us, food was love."
A guidance counselor suggested he pursue a trade rather than go to college and in his junior and senior year he spent half the day in school and half the day in the kitchen. He estimates he had 1,000 hours of experience by the time he graduated from high school and he apprenticed with top European-trained chefs.
With an inner-city education and a push in the right direction, a grand future opened to him.
"I couldn't do it now," D'Andrea realizes. "It's a different time." When he's looking for a chef today, D'Andrea
said he's looking for a degree.
He studied at Cornell University and City College of San Francisco, yet he said most of his skills come from talent, drive and connections.
"I have no regrets," he said.
The chef flew onto the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier to cook for admirals and Dee Dee Myers, White House Press Secretary under President Bill Clinton. He was the corporate chef for Marriott International and executive chef at The Fairmont San Francisco Hotel. Three times he was invited to compete as a guest chef at the James Beard Foundation's Town House in New York City in the best hotel chef category, which he said was a great honor.
He spent the last 13 years in Nashville, including six years at Gaylord Opryland where he transformed the cuisine and oversaw 18 food venues and $100 million in annual food and beverage sales.
The IP has eight restaurants and catering services and he said, "I can actually wrap my arms around this."
In between, he started his own consulting business for large restaurants and resorts but said, "I just got tired of the airplanes."
He also missed the team environment of a resort kitchen.
"Boyd has such a quality operation and wants to be so much more," he said.
His personality and talents mesh with those of Steven Morgan, IP food and beverage manager, D'Andrea said. They are making quality changes, introducing new menus throughout the resort's restaurants, updating some decor and adding equipment like a gas-fired pizza oven.
At Thirty-Two, the fine dining restaurant on the top floor of IP, he worked with the chef on a lighter, healthier menu with dishes like olive oil poached sea bass and grass-fed beef. Exceptional cheese from around the world is being flown in from around the world for the new cheese tray, and he said a cheese cave will be added.
"Boyd has given me all the tools," he said.
The company also gave him "seasoned" talent, chefs and management who have worked in the restaurant industry for years, and D'Andrea is developing a team of chefs and middle management.
"I love to be an educator," he said. While he cooks most every day and does all the research and development of the products before they are served, D'Andrea said he also pushes his 15 or more sous chefs to develop their skills. Each week, one of them prepares a special for all the others to sample.
D'Andrea said he came to South Mississippi with no notion of what to expect. He's already dined at most of the restaurants on the Coast to see what food and beverages work and what is needed.
He plans to start 2014 by working with his team to transform the menu at Costa Cucina restaurant at IP, drawing on his Italian roots and skills to create something diners at the IP Casino will appreciate.
"It is my passion," he said.