Chad Gardner has over 20 years of fine dining hospitality experience and is the Executive Chef and Owner of Dash and a Handful Catering, a full service Catering, Craft Services and Special Event Company in Palm Springs. Known for his use of exotic, bold spices and surprising flavors, most recently Chad closed on the purchase of PHO 533, a Vietnamese restaurant in Palm Springs.
Kate Buckley: Chad, tell me how you came up with name “Dash and a Handful”?
Chad Gardner: Dash and a Handful is and homage to my mother who was a restaurant owner and cook—and it is how my mother taught me to cook. A dash of this and a handful of that. She taught me to cook by feel and taste.
You launched in 2011, and business is booming. Is it true Dash and a Handful’s revenue grew 600% year over year, 2013 to 2014? To what do you ascribe this amazing growth?
My goal with Dash and a Handful was to be ultra luxury in the category of luxury brands caterers in the Palm Springs area. I have a great team and they have definitely contributed to our success. I believe we have raised the bar in catering and it was noticed. We also took on doing full event production in addition to catering. That component has helped drive more revenue to the company. We are a one-stop shop—we now can handle all aspects of any event, from small private occasions to large corporate events.
And you’re continuing to grow with your recent acquisition of PHO 533, one of the top Vietnamese restaurants in Palm Springs. Will this be operated in concert with or independently of Dash and a Handful?
A little of both. PHO 533 [pictured at left] will be a free standing restaurant, with Dash and a Handful maintaining its separate identity. However, we do have the great opportunity to utilize existing staffing, infrastructure and procedures already in place that will work in concert with Pho 533 as we move the restaurant into the next phase of operation as a Viet-Fusion restaurant.
How did you get into the culinary and hospitality industry? Did you always know you wanted to be a chef?
I grew up in the restaurant business. My mother was a cook, restaurant owner and manager my whole life. I started working as a dishwasher and moved my way up to eventually being General Manager of some very fine dining establishments. I always had the desire to be a chef. It wasn’t until I moved to Palm Springs that I went to culinary school and then started my own catering company as Founder and Executive Chef.
A native of the Bay Area, what brought you to Palm Springs?
I visited Palm Springs about 13 years ago for the first time. I arrived in Palm Springs at night, so didn’t really see the city or mountains until I woke up the next morning and saw these awesome mountains come right down into the town. I was amazed and awed, fell in love at that moment, and moved here one year later.
To provide a wonderful experience—with quality ingredients—that exceeds guest expectations. I believe you can do that with an ultra-luxury catering company like Dash and a Handful as well as with a more casual dining restaurant like Pho 533.
What would you say is your signature culinary style?
I am definitely a proponent of fusion and global cuisine. I like to source flavors and components from different cultures and blend them together in a way that surprises people a bit—in a good way, of course—and evokes a curiosity about and an engagement with what they are eating.
I’m a steward of Anh Ho Rock’s recipes and cuisine now that I have taken the reins at Pho 533, however I have and will continue to imbue my personality and culinary philosophies to the existing Vietnamese menu. We will become more and more Viet-Fusion. I look to my colleagues and mentors in the culinary world for inspiration as I continue to put my twist on the menu at Pho 533.
For example, a chef I deeply admire is Charles Pham of the Slanted Door in San Francisco. We have introduced a take on his famous “Shaking Beef” as a sort of homage to him as one the pioneers of Viet-Fusion cuisine in the United States more than 20 years ago. Our Shaking Beef is prepared with a grass-fed tenderloin of beef sautéed in our house-made nuoc cham sauce with crispy fried garlic and shallots and served on a bed of Mizuna (Japanese spicy greens) and baby watercress tossed in a spicy yuzu lime vinaigrette.
Sounds delicious! What’s your favorite and least favorite food?
Trying to pick a favorite food is like trying to pick your favorite child. That’s a tough one! I like so many flavors and spices, fresh and seasonal ingredients. I guess I would have to say, my favorite food is whatever makes me say WOW when I taste it! But it could something as simple as an heirloom tomato fresh out of garden or a perfectly seasoned and cooked New York Steak. Least favorite…I don’t know that I have a least favorite, I will give most things a chance.
When you’re not busy transforming the dining experiences of Greater Palm Springs, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I spend time with my husband, Roly and our two dogs. We enjoy traveling and getting to the beach any opportunity we can. A good movie is always a great distraction from the day-to-day of providing service and being a host to others.
And what is it you love most about Palm Springs?
Palm Springs is Shangri-La to my husband and me. It is living in paradise. We are so fortunate we are able to live and work in place that is so special! It is so friendly and wonderful here. You know you are home when you come back from traveling and see the sign that says HWY 111, or you see those beautiful mountains as you come in for a landing at the airport, and you feel a sense of calm and belonging. Palm Springs is best the place in the world for us. Palm Springs is home!