Alibi V.13 No.20 • May 13-19, 2004 

Chewing the Fat

Rochelle Woollard at La Piazza

An old hand in the kitchen is a new face at this Italian favorite

Lunchtime at La Piazza
Lunchtime at La Piazza
Singeli Agnew

The last time I ate at La Piazza I was surprised to see the owner and Executive Chef, Gordon Schutte, on the line, cooking up a storm. Normally, seeing a chef in his own kitchen shouldn't be a surprise but Schutte is also the owner of Vivace in Nob Hill and the ringleader of Albuquerque Originals, an association of local restaurateurs. Was he waiting for just the right person to show up and give him time for a coffee break? Rochelle Woollard, who started at La Piazza three months ago, seems to be that person.

So, do you love it?

I love it and I love working with Gordon.

How did you find each other?

We worked together years and years ago at the Ramada Classic [Hotel] and we've kept in touch over the years. Something opened up here when I was looking for a change so I jumped on it.

What's your official title?

I am sous chef, I guess. I'm managing the kitchen for Gordon. He trained me on how he likes each dish prepared.

Is Italian food something you've had a longstanding interest in?

I do love it. I've never really had hands-on experience in strict regional cooking. I've played a lot with nouvelle cuisine and I was trained to take things and put a spin on them. The discipline that I'm getting here is great. I'm really absorbing it and I like these flavors so much, the garlic rosemary, lemon zest ...

Will you have a hand in upcoming menus at La Piazza?

Yes, we've already been working on them together. We've also designed all of the cooking class menus and brunch menus together. ... We did a wine dinner on the 25th [of April] and it was a lot of fun. There are a lot of people who have been very true to La Piazza and Vivace and it's great to watch them come in and experiment with wine and food.

That's one of the great things about an open kitchen, like the one at La Piazza, you get to see people's reactions to the food.

It's great for kids too. They love to see the fire and the action.

Sometimes cooking can be thankless, when you don't get that feedback.

It's like you're constantly wrapping Christmas presents and never get to see them opened.

What a great analogy! Where were you cooking before this?

I've been at Albuquerque Catering for several years. It was exciting, we were always doing different things.

Will the restaurant be doing more catering now that you're there?

Definitely. We've been working on the catering menus and reaching to people who might be interested.

Are you from Albuquerque?

I was born in Santa Fe but I trained in San Francisco ... with Wolfgang Puck ... Rick O'Connell and for a catering company as well. I basically took as many jobs as I possibly could because I wanted to get the experience.

Well we're glad to have you here with us now.