In this installment of Carson Now’s Five Question series, where we get to know our community members in short-and-sweet interviews, with Chef Mark Estee, the owner of Carson City’s The Union and Cucina Lupo, (along with Liberty Food and Wine Exchange in Reno and the Overland in Gardnerville), we discuss his love of cooking, advice for aspiring chefs and more.
1) What made you want to become a chef?
When I was young in 1980’s, I loved cooking shows on PBS and cooking with my Dad on Sundays. I was fascinated with the process and the dishes and the flavors and techniques. I wanted to go to culinary school so bad, but it was not “cool” to be a chef way back then, so I was pushed away by family and friends who thought I was nuts. But, I am nuts so I ended up quitting normal college to follow my dreams, and here I am now haha!
2) Why did you choose Carson City for the Union and the new Cucina Lupo?
It kind of chose us. I was a little down after selling a few places in 2016 and some friends I ended up getting into The Union. Our team saw a great opportunity and we jumped at the chance. The landlord is an amazing businessman and supported our ideas. We got lucky for sure. After The Union, we took on The Overland, so we had a great feel for the clientele in the Carson Valley. Then as the team grew and Tommy and Nick joined ownership with us, we had a chance to take the space where Cucina Lupo is now. We really started to take The Union to brewery and gastropub, and this left us a no brainer for an upscale Italian joint.
3) What is your favorite type of food to cook? To eat?
I am a simple man. I love to cook for my youngest son, Enzo. He loves pasta and salad. I cook seasonally and shop at the restaurants and the Great Basin Food Coop (among other places). Simple roasted chicken and eggs of all kinds are my favorite, but I also like to eat and drink at other locally owned spots to support my neighbors.
4) What advice do you have for aspiring chefs?
Get in the business and work it! No matter what, get a job and see if you like the pace, the feel, the work and all the things you do not see on TV. This is an amazing career and can be so rewarding. The last 20 years, and especially in the last 3 or so, we have seen the industry address the challenges of all types of abuse: equality in the workplace and so many other things that make being a chef so much more balanced than it was when I came up. I advise any person looking at this career to reach out to others and ask them about their experiences, both good and bad. I know I spend a fair amount of time talking to others about this amazing job!
5) Do you have any plans for new restaurant expansions at this time?