Eugene “Geno” Duggan arrived in Tahoe 40 years ago and, like many before and after him, he arrived without a job and decided to stay. At the start of his restaurant career, Duggan walked in to Le Petit Pier restaurant in Tahoe Vista, applied for a job in the pantry and was hired. At the time, Le Petit was on the verge of becoming one of North Shore’s most prestigious restaurants. Under the tutelage of renowned chef and owner Jean DuFau, who died in a car accident in 1996, Duggan worked his way up from the pantry to sous chef and eventually worked as DuFau’s assistant chef. After five years at Le Petit Pier, he became head chef at Captain Jon’s where he remained for 16 years before returning to Le Petit Pier after DuFau’s death.
When Geno wasn’t in the kitchen, he spent his off time breaking trails on his mountain bike, well before the sport made its way to Tahoe in the early ’80s. In winter, he backcountry skied on some of the same trails he discovered on his bike, including many of the current trails at the Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area in Tahoe City.
Born in western Massachusetts in 1948, Duggan studied restaurant management at Holyoke Community College, then served in the U.S. Army Reserve as a chef. “That’s some good training for quantity, not always quality,” he said. “I got that from Jean.” He spent one year at Victoria Station in Denver before his adventure West to Tahoe.
Duggan and his wife Theresa, known as Tee or Tee May, spent their first 20 years together living lakeside in Kings Beach. They later moved to Tahoe Vista where he has spent the last 10 years in retirement doing his favorite hobbies: cooking and biking.
What did one of North Shore’s top chefs recognize in you to take you under his wing and train you?
I had a lot of energy, some restaurant experience, and an ability to communicate well with the kitchen staff. We worked long, hard hours and he promoted me. Jean DuFau was an up-and-comer, but he didn’t really take off until the early ’80s. He was written up in Gourmet Magazine and people came from all over the world to dine at Le Petit Pier. It was an exceptional place and the food was world class.
After five years at Le Petit Pier, you became head chef at Captain Jon’s in Tahoe Vista from 1980 through 1996. How’d that come about?
Jean DuFau owned Captain Jon’s in the beginning. He asked me to run the restaurant. We worked together, then he sold his interest and I was on my own as chef and manager of Captain Jon’s. After Jean died, his family asked me to return to Le Petit and I did for eight more years until I retired in 2005. I had 30 years in the restaurant business.
You met your wife Tee May at Captain Jon’s, and she had a catering business called A Catered Affair.
Yes. Tee served breakfast and lunch, and I did dinner. We fell in love sometime between those meals.
Have you won awards, and what was your signature dish?
I won Best of Show in Food and Wine Lake Tahoe in the early ’80s. I was in Bon Appetit magazine and a Bon Appetit cookbook for salmon en croute, veal, and pork pâté.
What struck you about Tahoe, and why did you stay?
The beauty, the lake, the lifestyle, and it was the beginning of the restaurant boom on the North Shore. I jumped on the off-road biking that started in the Bay around ’78. I raced and rode the Flume Trail before it was a known bike trail. Same for the Rim Trail before it was established. I had topo maps and I’d find trails. I enjoy the serenity of mountain biking and cross-country skiing. I’ve skied up most every mountain here — Heavenly Valley, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Homewood, Mt. Rose. Now I’m pretty much on the bike path because I’ve got hip problems. I have one new hip, now the other one’s going.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen on the North Shore since you arrived?
The restaurant boom on the North Shore died. There are fewer mom and pop restaurants and it’s becoming more corporate. We’ve lost a lot of permanent residents as they moved away to find work. Our neighborhood has become more of a second homeowners community. Everything changed.