Few area chefs have a more impressive resume than David Lani. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, New York, in 2000, he worked with the legendary Jean-Jacques Rachou at Manhattan’s La Côte Basque, as well as David Burke at the Park Avenue Café. From there Lani’s travels took him to Las Vegas, where he cooked for Charlie Palmer at Aureole at the Mandalay Bay Resort, and did stints with Wolfgang Puck at Postrio and as a trainer at Wolfgang Puck Express. When he interviewed with Colin Estrem for the job of executive chef at 7th Avenue Social, which Estrem opened earlier this year, the two men immediately discovered a shared passion for food and hospitality.
Biggest influence: I come from a big Italian family, and on Sundays my mother would get up early and start cooking. The house would fill with the aromas of garlic and frying meatballs. Professionally, I had the pleasure of working closely with Wolfgang Puck. He was a bright light—when he walked into the kitchen, everybody would start smiling. He actually treated his employees like people.
Favorite trend: Southern cuisine. We do a lot with recipes that range from the Carolinas down to Florida and Cuba. It’s very popular right now, both nationally and in Naples, and it’s easy to see why—you can taste the heart and soul that goes into a dish.
Loaded Yucca Fries with Barbacoa Beef
Is French cuisine dead? Not at all. The techniques are more important than the actual dishes—stocks, butchering, creating a demi-glace. It’s the foundation of everything we do.
Ultimate meal: I’m an old-school meat-and-potatoes guy. I’d want a great steak, perfectly seasoned and grilled, accompanied by classic steak-house sides, such as hash browns and creamed spinach.
On mentoring: The most rewarding part is when you get someone who has the drive and passion to succeed. I’ve seen people who have started as dishwashers and become chefs. On the flip side, it’s frustrating when you encounter people who just want to clock in and clock out. That’s my pet peeve.
If I weren’t a chef: Hopefully, I would have had the sense to listen to my mother and become a lawyer.
Chicken n’ Waffs