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"We didn't even know how to scoop ice cream," Elbow says. "The first one that one of the young guys filled up looked like the Matterhorn." It's a good-natured reference to the towering dessert at nearby Andre's.
Elbow grew up in Liberty, where ice cream came from Baskin-Robbins, Dairy Queen or the porch of his childhood home. He remembers churning the black-handled crank on his family's White Mountain ice-cream machine for hours, with neighborhood kids taking turns until their forearms began to burn, all for the magic instant when dessert was apportioned directly from the beater. On Saturday mornings, he plopped in front of the television to watch Great Chefs instead of cartoons.
"The show was broken up into appetizer, entrée and dessert," he says. "And I could never wait for them to get to the dessert."
But if it's television, a meal or a career, it always seems to start with appetizers. Elbow found that out when he took his first kitchen job, at the Lincoln Country Club. Executive chef Mike Miller saw something in the University of Nebraska undergraduate with no kitchen experience.
"I told him I'd work for free," Elbow says. "Thankfully, he didn't take me up on that offer."
Elbow worked at the country club for two and a half years, learning each station and discovering how to deal with the stress of being on the line. After graduation in 1996, he intended to go to culinary school, but the allure of a job in the kitchen at Shiraz (which closed in 2008, after 14 years in business) and being closer to home brought him to Kansas City.
Shiraz was Elbow's first taste of the Crossroads. Owner Ali Shirazi, a native of Iran, introduced him to Persian spices over the six-burner stove wedged in the back. Elbow wasn't yet making chocolate, but he began to experiment with sorbet and ice cream. Saffron and black pepper were some of his early attempts to push his own boundaries and those of Shiraz's diners.
He'd been at Shiraz almost three years when his father guided his career in a new direction. While on vacation, David Elbow was having dinner with Christopher's mother, Linda, at Emeril's in Las Vegas. Elbow told the general manager that his son was a chef. Emeril Lagasse was preparing to open Delmonico Steakhouse at the Venetian and was hiring. Christopher Elbow called the manager and sent a resumé. A week later, he was driving his Toyota pickup and a U-Haul trailer to Las Vegas.
He shared an apartment just off the strip with a roommate from Liberty High School who, two weeks earlier, had secured a position in the nightly show at Treasure Island. The role: pirate. Elbow's friend was in the process of growing a curlicue mustache.
"I was there a year on the nose, and that was probably nine months too long," Elbow says. "He's still a pirate to this day."
While still at Delmonico, Elbow took a second shift under chef Jean Joho at the brand-new Eiffel Tower Restaurant in the Paris Hotel. It was there that he learned to make chocolates from a French pastry chef in a kitchen that served up 200 soufflés a night, in seven flavors.
"It was brutal, but I discovered I could cook in a kitchen with people who had gone to culinary school," Elbow says.
Do you have toilet paper?" asks Pamela Henry, environmental compliance manager with the Johnson County Environmental Department. It's 11:06 a.m., and she has just checked the temperature of the ice-cream freezer and noted her findings in a small voice recorder.