A Legacy of Love
Chad Gardner blends Asian fusion with Palm Springs hospitality
By Kevin Perry
When you have already achieved gourmet nirvana, event mastery, and gastronomic rule over the Inland Empire, what else could you possibly hope to serve?
The simple answer: more.
Chad Gardner expands his hospitable dominion and unfurls new dimensions to his proverbial welcome mat with the grand opening of Roly China Fusion. The restaurant’s motto is “be healthy, be happy, be loved,” and it’s a philosophy that Chad has embraced since childhood.
“My mom was very influential in my cooking life,” Gardner beams. “She was a chef in Sonoma County, and cooking was all about love for her. I’ve inherited that gene. It’s a way I kinda express my love for people I care about. My hope is that they can taste it in my food. That’s the driving passion.”
But excellence is equal parts passion and inspiration, so how does Chad draw upon the latter? “My menu starts in my head,” he explains. “My menu can be inspired by a picture that I saw, a moment in time, a movie clip – it’s not necessarily because I went to the market and saw ingredients. It’s kinda my crazy way of getting inspired by life.”
And when he first arrived in Palm Springs, life gave Gardner a heaping helping of stimuli, served up desert-hot. “We arrived at night,” Chad recounts. “Driving on Highway 111 reminded me of that last road into Lake Tahoe or Reno, up in Northern California.”
When the sun rose hours later, it illuminated Gardner’s new muse. “I woke up the next morning and my balcony was facing the mountain, and I just fell in love. We went downtown the next day and seeing the mountain come all the way into the downtown area was just amazing. And of course the weather and just a really great community here. And a year later, I moved here.”
It was a momentous migration for Chad, who passed along his zeal for life events to the patrons of Dash and a Handful, his artisan catering and planning business. “We do a lot of social events, a lot of weddings, and I tell my clients, ‘I take one client at a time.’ They are my sole focus.”
While Gardner may limit his scope to one client at a time, his range of disciplines is as vast as his boundless enthusiasm. “I get my energy from the food.” Deferring to his talented staff, Chad elaborates, “Although I have a great team that supports me now, so I’m not chopping all the vegetables and sautéing all of the ingredients, at some point during an experience, I have my hands on the food because I feel like it’s putting my energy into the food which is then passing to my guests. That is my hope.”
Event planner by day, Gardner explores his ¡caliente! side by night. “I love bold foods,” exclaims the founder of 533 Viet-Fusion. “Give me spice! Not gratuitous spice, but I love good, quality spices. A little bit of heat that is conducive to the dish. I absolutely love it. I’m very much a savory chef, so I like savory, I like bold, I like big flavors. All of my food is gonna have a little bit of comfort in it because that’s what I grew up with.”
And that growth process continues brilliantly. Chad’s foodie family tree began with the refined Vietnamese offerings at 533, but they’re quickly branching out to his latest triumph. “I told my husband, whose name is Roly, when I founded 533 I said, ‘This is my starter restaurant. I know that we will do something bigger.’ I knew that there was more to come. I really, really love Asian food, I love good Chinese food, and I know there is a niche to be filled here in the desert.”
To bridge that gourmet gap, Gardner is collaborating with renowned chef DJ Cheek, a visionary who helped launch the upscale TAO brand in Las Vegas and LA. “He’s got a really great pedigree,” Chad assesses. “It was like he pulled the menu out of my head and put it on paper. That’s when I knew that we were gonna be a good fit… We’re a very good team. It’s like a yin and a yang. He’s executing my food in a comfortable way that he’s been doing for years, which is good. I think it’s gonna be a really great culinary partnership.”
But the real winners are anyone who dines at Chad Gardner’s establishments, past, present and future. Regarding Roly China Fusion, for example: “We have a dim sum chef and will be offering dim sum on a daily basis, and a dim sum happy hour. We’ll have a dim sum brunch. It’s all house-made.”
In Chad’s house, nobody goes hungry. “As with my menu at 533, we are starting the base of our sauces gluten-free. So our menu will be about 80% gluten-free because so many people love Chinese food but cannot eat it. That’s a really great positive thing that I learned over at 533, to make recipes that are gluten-free that people still love.”
Ah, love: the appetizer, entrée, and emotional dessert that fuels Gardner’s many pursuits. It all harkens back to the woman who inspired her son’s eternal dedication to hospitality. “The name Dash and a Handful came from the way my mother taught me how to cook.” Chad softens as he continues, “It’s an homage to my mother who is no longer with us.”
But her spirit of inclusion lives on, and Gardner has translated the unconditional acceptance of his familial home to our greater (and grateful) community. “Palm Springs has been so welcoming to me and my husband.”
Whipping his passion into a frothy declaration, Chad concludes, “Palm Springs has allowed me to show my talent and my love for the community through my food and my restaurants and my catering company. For that, I’m very thankful.”
Join us in returning the thanks - Roly China Fusion opened to the PS public on October 1st, 2019.