What do an astronaut, athlete, veterinarian, and rock star all have in common? More often than not, when we were younger, we figured we would all go into one (or all) of those professions? And more often than not, we went into another field. But even some of the most acclaimed Arizona chefs got their starts in different industries.

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Turns out even the most talented and successful chefs in Arizona had different ideas about their career paths when they were kids as well. Here is a look at several culinary kings and queens’ initial plans and the winding roads that let them to lighting up local kitchens:

Gustavo Lewkowicz

Gustavo Lewkowicz

Executive chef and owner, Cafe Monarch and Reserve

While today he leads two of Arizona’s most romantic and award-winning ultra-fine dining concepts, for more than 30 years, Lewkowicz worked in the leather business, which runs in his family, mainly owning and operating a successful leather shop in Old Town Scottsdale. When the opportunity arose to invest with his family in Café Monarch, they hired a professional chef for a spell. Soon, Lewkowicz realized that for the restaurant to succeed, he had to immerse himself in the kitchen and learn everything imaginable about the world of food. Though he had no formal training, Lewkowicz had a natural talent and was not afraid to work hard, going so far as to travel the world searching for the perfect ingredients, preparations, and ways to elevate the dining experience at his concepts. He still leads the concept – and is still traveling in search of perfect bites – as well as its sister concept in Reserve.

Sara Garrant

Executive chef, Bourbon Steak at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

While an Arizona epicurean icon today, Garrant is not a native of State 48. She actually hails from the 49th state in Alaska, where she grew up in a family of salmon fisherman. By the time she was a teen, Garrant was accomplished in fishing herself and had an open invitation to take on the unique career long term. However, she loved cooking the freshly caught fish – sometimes right on the dock – as much as catching them, so she took a chance and enrolled in culinary school in Canada before doing what all Canadians do at least part of the year in moving to Arizona (we kid, sort of!). Her strength in seafood was soon complemented by a complete mastery of all things meat, and she made a name for herself locally at Noca before taking on massive jobs with Fairmont Grand Del Mar and Fountainebleau Michael Mina 74 before coming back to the Valley to lead Bourbon Steak. And yes, she is still adept with her fishing pole, going so far as to take team members with her to Alaska annually for a seafood sourcing expedition of a lifetime.

David Duarte

David Duarte

Executive sous chef, The Scottsdale Resort & Spa, Curio Collection by Hilton

For many years, David Duarte worked as a firefighter in New York while daydreaming with his brother – also a firefighter – of opening a bed and breakfast one day in Italy together. After losing his brother in 9/11, Duarte retired from the force to pursue a formal culinary education, which led him to positions at lauded international hotspots and to set a Guinness World Record with the 101-course dinner “Around the World in 10,000 Bites,” dubbed “the culinary event of the decade” by Forbes. Specializing in Japanese A5 Wagyu beef, he is one of 13 certified experts in the United States and the only chef in Arizona certified to work with true Kobe beef. He came to The Scottsdale Resort & Spa to help re-imagine their concepts, which debuted earlier this year to national acclaim, and he continues to refine his craft, driven by the promise to fulfill he and his brother’s shared dream.

Raul A. Del Pozo

Research and development chef, Prime Steak Concepts, Dominick’s, Ocean 44, Steak 44

Del Ponzo considers himself a food scientist as much as a chef. And that makes sense given he planned to be a physician. How close did he get to becoming a doctor? Del Pozo not only studied but graduated from college with a degree in nuclear medicine and physics. Thankfully, he also worked in restaurants for much of that time, falling in love with the art and science that happens every second in the kitchen. His passion for pairing molecular gastronomy with fine dining dishes drove him to positions in New York City, Chicago, and even Miami before the Mastro family brought him to Arizona earlier this year to further innovate for their trio of brands in Dominick’s Steakhouse, Steak 44, and Ocean 44.