Alexander de Toth doesn't like to think of himself as a chef.
For 30 years he managed luxury hotels, which brought him all over the country, from Texas, to Florida, to the East Coast and finally to Washington.
Originally from the Bay Area, de Toth decided to retire from the hotel industry 16 years ago so that he and his wife, Nina, could move back to the Bay Area. He decided to pursue a lifelong dream to open a restaurant after finding found the location in Foster City.
It started off as a simple pasta restaurant. The staff all joined as dishwashers and de Toth used very little investment upfront, to ensure the concept would work. Sixteen years later, the restaurant is quite successful, and the entire staff has been there to see it grow. Each member from line cooks to the waiters has been with the restaurant for over 12 years.
"They are like family to my wife and myself," de Toth said.
Over the years, de Toth tested out new recipes and expanded beyond just pasta. Eventually customers encouraged him to change the concept of the restaurant to reflect the revised menu. Taking their advice, the restaurant was remodeled four years ago. They created a menu focusing on recipes inspired by the Italian, French and German regions of Switzerland and changed the name to Chalet Ticino.
All of the recipes are originals. To create new dishes, de Toth brainstorms with his staff and tests out new ideas in tasting sessions. Successes are added as specials to the menu, which often eventually join the menu as permanent dishes, replacing less popular items.
One of the newest creations is "Crispy Angel Hair." To make this dish, they sauté spinach, prawns and scallops in a sun-dried tomato and plum sauce and place it over a "birds nest" of angel hair pasta. It is light and tasty, and has quickly become a popular lunch entrée. Another new item is "Chicken Paillard," a Swiss dish. They flatten and bake the chicken breast, add julienne vegetables, and use a portabella mushroom sauce to top it off.
For dinner, customers often choose the four-course menu. With this prix fixe meal comes the choice of three entrees, along with soup, salad and dessert. Soufflés are offered on Friday and Saturday nights, including Chocolate, Grand Marnier and sometimes Swiss-German Apple flavors. The restaurant's signature dessert is the Swiss bread pudding.
At Chalet Ticino, everything is made from fresh ingredients. The vegetables and salad items are brought in fresh everyday. The fish is also bought fresh each day and varies from sole and sea bass to salmon, depending on what is available.
What de Toth enjoys most about the restaurant business is the people.
"I love to be around people -- I have been in the hospitality business all of my life," he said.
In terms of advice for budding chefs, de Toth thinks it is important to enjoy what you do. "You can burn out easily in this business. It is a demanding profession, especially in the kitchen where there is a lot of pressure," he said. "You have to love to cook. At the front-end of the business, you have to love people."
The job can be challenging, but at the end of the day de Toth runs the restaurant with a passion. "I like to work. I've been called a workaholic. But, it's that I love what I do," he said.