Chef Chris Holland: Finding Joy & Satisfaction in Cooking, A Second Career
Chef Chris Holland isn’t the sort of person who has been working in a restaurant kitchen for as long as he can remember. It wasn’t until eight years ago that Holland began to cook professionally. “I’m a career change chef,” he says. “I was diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis (MS) in my 20’s. I went through some feeling sorry for myself years, and then I decided to pursue my passion. I left the legal field and began cooking.”
Quitting a steady job in a law firm for the tumult of the culinary world may sound risky, but Holland knew he made the right decision right away. Holland’s new career is constantly challenging and deeply rewarding. “I love the blend of science and creativity in cooking, like both sides of a coin,” Holland explains.
Holland started his new career in a tiny New Jersey restaurant called Session Bistro. “They needed a chef who would cook for free, and since I wasn’t a real chef, that’s how I got my foot in the door,” Holland remembers. It was the hardest two years of his life—he had to learn how to run a restaurant kitchen in real time. It was there that Holland met Joe Printz, the owner of DVine Bar and DVine Pie in Rockland County, New York. “We hit it off and he decided to take a chance on me,” Holland says. Holland has been running the DVine kitchens ever since.
In Sparkill, New York, DVine Bar pairs Holland’s small plates, which feature local and seasonal ingredients and flavors from around the world, with creative cocktails and wines. “It’s unpretentious food,” Holland says. “Flavor comes first. I’m not snobby. If it’s awesome I put it on the menu.” His dishes include “chick-a-rones,” or crispy fried chicken skins, and octopus confit with smoked white bean puree and kale.
When Printz asked Holland to helm the kitchen at his pizza shop DVine Pie in Piermont, New York, Holland answered: “I’ll only do it if we don’t do anything traditional—no margarita pizza.” He got his wish. At DVine Pie, Holland cooks up quirky pizzas like the Jersey Pie with taylor ham, scrambled eggs, and ketchup, and the Fig-Get-About-It—his personal favorite— topped with fresh figs, capicola, Beemster Classic, sherry gastrique and baby arugula.
Beemster is Holland’s favorite cheese, and an essential ingredient on his menus. “I love its rich caramel quality,” says Holland. “It bridges the gap between sweet and savory.” He also features Beemster Classic on his Dessert Pie, a pizza strewn with roasted peaches, candied pecans, dulce de leche and Beemster Cheese. The Beemster brings out the sweetness of the peaches and rounds out the flavors. “There’s nothing like it,” Holland exclaims. “The flavor speaks for itself.”
Was cooking everything Holland hoped it would be when he left his 9 – 5? “I enjoy work every day,” says Holland. “But it’s so much more than that.” Holland’s had a brush with fame, appearing on the Food Network, ABC News, and winning the exclusive championship on Chopped: Alton’s Challenge a special 5-part Chopped tournament featuring Food Network star, Alton Brown. Even more importantly, he’s had the opportunity to give back to local schools, hospitals, and the MS community.
“It’s been very rewarding,” says Holland. “And more than I ever hoped it would be.”