TEMECULA, Calif. – (March 2, 2016) – Pechanga Resort & Casino proudly welcomes Franco Duarte-Piza as its new head chef of the Pechanga Buffet. A native of Acapulco, Mexico, Chef Duarte-Piza offers his creative culinary flair and affinity for seafood and Latin dishes while appealing to the variety of tastes of the approximately 15,000 guests who dine at the 460-seat buffet each week.
The youngest of nine children, Franco Duarte-Piza grew up going to the beach with his brothers to fish. They would often catch their dinners and cook octopus, shrimp and fish plentiful in the waters around southern Mexico. In his late teens, his grandmother brought him and his siblings to live with family in San Diego. Several of his brothers had already entered the culinary industry. His oldest brother, 20 years his senior, was a well-established pastry chef in San Diego and gave him his first job in his bakery as a dishwasher. Franco watched the bakers intently, and would sometimes get a chance to work with doughs and make cookie batches. After a few years at the pastry shop, he received an opportunity to cook at the acclaimed Cindy Black’s dining house, located a few blocks away from his brother’s bakery.
“I consider my mom and Cindy Black my culinary inspirations,” said Duarte-Piza. “My mom loved to cook. She was always making mole or chicharones, sauces with poblano peppers and chile verde pork,” he recalled. “Cindy Black really gave me my first start. She believed in me and took me under her wing, and I learned from her the perseverance it takes to be a chef. I’m eternally grateful for that.”
After working in the kitchens of several other resorts and restaurants in the San Diego area, Chef Duarte-Piza moved north and helped open a restaurant as the Executive Chef in Downtown Murrieta, Calif. The economic downturn in 2007-2008 took its toll as fewer people dined out. The owners closed the restaurant in late 2008. Later that year, Duarte-Piza accepted a production chef job at Pechanga Resort & Casino. He continued to develop his culinary and leadership skills and was named head chef of the Pechanga Buffet in late January.
“The title of head chef was a big step. I wanted to make sure my wife and my kids were okay with it. It’s a big step for all of us, but I’m very happy. I love to cook and pretty sure it shows in my food.”
Chef Duarte-Piza shared some new food items guests can expect to see in the Pechanga Buffet soon.
“On weekends during dinner service, we’re offering tapas, sliders and other small plates,” he said. “Each weekend will feature a different small plate special.”
Guests can also look forward to a new street taco station with hand-carved meat from a Mexican-style rotisserie at the buffet in the near future.
Duarte-Piza considers himself a beach guy, having grown up next to the water in Acapulco and San Diego. He enjoys going to the beach with his family whenever he can.