Fourteen years ago, the first owner of Chelsea's restaurant in Oak Creek went to San Francisco to find a chef.
After posting an ad at a job center, she met up with David Chen, who was born in the Canton province of China, started steaming rice at age 5, and has since studied cooking and worked professionally in Hawaii and San Francisco.
Chen took the job before seeing Oak Creek. He flew out and started to work, never guessing that he would stay with the restaurant for the next 14 years as it changed hands five times, and raise his family in a small Colorado town.
Instead of guessing, he focused on making good food.
"I do my job, and I'm happy." Chen said.
Chelsea's current owners, Andy and Jaila Benjamin, bought the restaurant in late 2002. One of the first things they did when they heard the restaurant was for sale was call Chen.
"We wouldn't have bought Chelsea's if David wouldn't come along with us and be the chef," Jaila Benjamin said, calling Chen the heartbeat of the restaurant. "We knew he was the main reason for Chelsea's success."
The Benjamins have since changed the restaurant, redecorating with fresh paint and a colorful mural, making the restaurant non-smoking and bringing in live entertainment. But they have not changed the food, leaving that to Chen.
Chen has three keys to good Chinese food: "Tastes, looks, fast."
Crucial to taste is the sauce, and Chelsea's uses more than 20, including brown, white, curry, sesame and lemon chicken. For "looks," Chen likes meals to be colorful and neat, never messy.
Watching Chen at work, his speed is the first thing noticed. Like a master pianist, his efficient hands chop, toss and mix as if he's not thinking. He can cook a dinner in 15 seconds.
On a busy night, Chelsea's can serve 120 people, which means 120 dishes that all come from Chen's single wok.
Speed hinges on preparation, which starts at the restaurant in early afternoon. For every four hours of service, there are about six hours of prep work.
But with fast service, people are happy, Chen said. And if his customers are happy, so is he.
"I love cooking," Chen said. "People tell me the food is good; I'm happy.
"People say, 'You (make) the best food I ever had.' I like that: 'Best food I ever had.'"
Chen is proud to say that in the 14 years he's been with Chelsea's, he has never heard a complaint about his food. He also has never missed a day of work.
He has loved cooking since he was a boy. His father was a professional chef, and Chen started working part time in a restaurant when he was in school.
For as long as Chen has been its chef, Chelsea's has had a devoted following, Jaila and Andy Benjamin said. The restaurant is geared to residents and has some who come to eat three times a week. But it also reaches much further.
Many people from the Front Range stop by for dinner each time they vacation in the area. People living anywhere from New York to California have heard of the restaurant's hot, fresh cuisine through friends.
"A friend of my mom's met someone in Alaska who told her how great Chelsea's is," Jaila Benjamin said. "So we're kind of nationwide."
"And that can pretty much be attributed to one thing: David," Andy Benjamin continued.
Chen knows the importance of a good chef.
"If you get the good cook, business is good," Chen said. "If you get a bad cook, your business is lost."
That saying is illustrated by what happened under Chelsea's second owner. The owner wanted Chen to start changing some things, Chen said, and finally told Chen to leave. The owner did things solo for a month and ran the restaurant "into the ground," Andy Benjamin said. That owner sold it for $75,000 to the third owner, Chen remembered.
Chen moved back to San Francisco. Soon afterward, the third owner came looking for him and asked him to return. He did.
Chelsea's winter hours are 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. There are extended hours during the summer. The restaurant is considering serving lunch on weekends.