The chef and co-owner of Ava, the new and much talked about Rockwall destination, got his start waiting tables right after high school. But it was his decision to enter El Centro's culinary program that really set things in motion.
From there, the Dallas native worked in hotel and country club kitchens...until Colleen O'haire took over the Green Room and offered Copeland the sous chef position. Shortly after that, he took a job at Bradley Ogden in Caesar's Palace.
What lured him back? He and Nathan Tate partnered to open Ava. But even as they worked out the details, he stepped in to help get Bolsa up and running.
So from hotspot to Sin City to, um--just why would he open in Rockwall...?
1, So why Rockwall?
I was born and raised in east Dallas. My partner was born here. We just love the community. The lake is here. The income level is good. We just felt like there was a niche we would fit into.
2. OK, how is Rockwall different from Vegas?
Man, other than the obvious? You know, I've been surprised by Rockwall. The people support us and they seem to understand what we're doing. Anyway, there's no city other than New York--maybe--that compares to Vegas.
3. Was it difficult to do any work in Sin City?
It's awesome to work there. After about six months I never went on the strip except on my way to work or to go eat. The best thing is, if you work in one of the top restaurants, you can get taken care of real well when you go out. That's important, because a good meal in Vegas generally costs about 3 or 4 bills.
4. Lose much gambling?
I didn't lose too much, honestly. I had a budget. I'm 35 now. I went there when I was 31. I probably couldn't have handled it if I was 21, though.
5. So why is it you can go 30 years without seeing quinoa then suddenly it's everywhere?
It's interesting, that one. I like it because it's good for you and it has this nuttiness--and it pair well with so many things. But it's amazing how many people still haven't heard of it.
6. Why are so many chefs into local and seasonal sourcing now?
I think there's been a grassroots movement for four or five years now, but people weren't necessarily aware of it. You know, I grew up here and I didn't even know there were four seasons. I went to Bolsa because Graham and I have the same philosophical concept--we're on the same page. But the guys at Bolsa had no idea the people that would come. It's working. I just think people want to eat healthier and they want to know where their food comes from.
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7. Has all your work up to now been like an apprenticeship for opening a restaurant?
Absolutely. I mean, I was a sous chef, so I got to learn the business side. I've worked in fine dining. Everything I've done over the last seven years has led me to this, to where I am now.
8. Do you miss the Green Room?
I was only there six months, right after Marc Cassel left. It was probably the hardest job I had in cooking. I worked just as long there as I do opening this place--in at 10, leave a 1. That was my introduction to fine dining in Dallas. But it was amazing--a great energy. That place still lives on.
9 Bet you don't miss the kitchen?
That kitchen was ridiculous. That's why I got there at 10 a.m.--I could get some work done.
10. Why do so many restaurants seem to open before they're ready?
A lot do and I always thought that was crazy. We were behind. We signed a lease in October and in our naivete thought we could open in February. But between Thanksgiving and New Years, nothing got accomplished. The construction business doesn't work a lot in December--I learned that. So we opened with a nice spring menu. You want to be ready when you open, but you're paying rent. You gotta start turning a profit at some point.