Florida is Dennis Chan’s home, but to hear him talk about it, the CIA in Hyde Park still holds a big piece of his heart. “I really value the experience I had at the CIA,” he says. “I try to be as much of an ambassador for the school as I can.” Dennis currently has three employees whom he is encouraging to attend. And he does a lot of cooking demos for culinary students at the local community college, thereby spreading the word about the CIA.
After he graduated, the pull of Florida was great—after all, for over six decades Dennis’ family has opened some of Jacksonville’s most popular restaurants. Once there, Dennis helped a local chef open a new restaurant. But new challenges called and he moved on to spend the next five years managing the four locations of Brio Tuscan Grill in Winter Park, FL. With managerial experience under his belt, he decided to open his own place, and Blue Bamboo was born—in Jacksonville, of course.
Giving his Asian restaurant a new twist, he offers patrons something called “street eats”—appetizers modeled on the vendor-style food offered in China’s markets. With these he pairs excellent wines from his cellar, making for a perfect light meal. His approach calls for infusing traditional Asian fare with contemporary flavors to offer a unique dining experience. Dennis released his first cookbook, Hip Asia Comfort Food, in 2009 and his name was included on the inaugural Best Chefs in America list.
He is still influenced by his experience at the CIA—even using some of his classmates’ recipes in his restaurant. And, he willingly and eloquently recounts his days in Hyde Park. “The school gives you more experience in two years than you could get after many years in the industry,” he says. “You have access to instructors whose wealth of knowledge would be hard to find anywhere else. And the library, well, the library was a revelation. I never knew there was so much information to be had and there it was all in one place!”
Dennis may have strong family and professional ties that keep him in Jacksonville, FL, but his memories and experiences in Hyde Park remain a touchstone for his work every day. In fact, he was a recent speaker at a Hyde Park graduation ceremony.