Chef Jeana Pecha's approach to life and cooking is as bold as the New Orleans-inspired dishes she creates at Vieux Carré

Chef Jeana Pecha has taken a long, winding road to Spokane. "Working as a dishwasher humbles you. Everyone should do it." - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo
Chef Jeana Pecha has taken a long, winding road to Spokane. "Working as a dishwasher humbles you. Everyone should do it."

Jeana Pecha likes a good challenge. And at 26, the executive chef at Spokane's Vieux Carré restaurant has sought out and conquered many of them in the past 10 years, chasing a dream to continuously learn and improve.

When her friend was stationed in Korea, for example, Pecha popped over for a visit. With time on her hands, and cooking skills gained from the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, Pecha looked for and found a place that would let her work in the kitchen. Same thing in China, and again in Japan, this time at a ramen shop. She had just turned 20.

This kind of unpaid internship is called a stage, explains Pecha. Pronounced "staahj," it's from the French stagiaire, and a staple for many would-be chefs looking to gain top-shelf experience in fine dining. She also staged at Alinea in Chicago, one of only 14 restaurants to earn Michelin's 3-star rating.

"Working for free is better than taking the plunge" and starting your own restaurant right away, says Pecha, who taps her head, indicating how she's just storing away all those experiences. Someday she'll open her own place, she says.

Pecha's interest in cooking was sparked at an early age, she says. She remembered a Fisher-Price kitchen she got as a kid and writing menus when she was 6 or 7, like the one for tiramisu truffles. "It was spelled horribly wrong," she says laughing.

At 14 Pecha worked as a dishwasher for free at McCormick & Schmick's in the Sacramento area where she grew up.

"Working as a dishwasher humbles you," says Pecha. "Everyone should do it."

Although she was too young to get paid, the experience galvanized her interest in the food industry.

"It was escapism in the most intense way," says Pecha of working in restaurant kitchens, which were also a unique kind of family, she adds.

During high school, situations in her own family became difficult, and she was placed into foster care. Several years later, Pecha appeared on the television show, Guy's Grocery Games, the theme of which was "Culinary Saved My Life."

Pecha doesn't dwell on the past, nor on negative experiences, describing how the challenges she has encountered propelled her forward. At 17, for example, Pecha lit out for Mexico, working in kitchens and exploring. At 18, she returned to northern California to attend Napa's Culinary Institute.

Several cooking jobs followed in California's fertile culinary landscape: at celebrity chef Michael Chiarello's Bottega in Yountville; at chef Ryder Zetts' Archetype in St. Helena, and in Pasadena at Lost Parrot Café and Huntington Catering, where she became executive chef.

In 2020, Pecha relocated to Spokane to work as executive chef at Chad White's Zona Blanca, and this year joined Vieux Carré, where she's re-immersed herself in Cajun, Creole and New Orleans-inspired cuisine. She's also drawn on earlier visits to the Big Easy while a chef in California.

As if Vieux Carré didn't keep her busy enough, Pecha is teaching cooking classes at Wanderlust Delicato. When she was dissatisfied with chef's knives available to her, she sought out a knifemaker and learned how to make her own, launching JP Knives shortly after, to which she's adding an apron line.

She also maintains a regular Instagram feed and her own website, ChefJeanaMarie.com, where she chronicles her journey.

"I fail quick and I learn," says Pecha. "I don't like to waste time."

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