Crystal A. Espinoza, who calls Echo Park home, contributes her local touch to Pasadena’s UNION, where she creates confections inspired by farmers markets, fresh ingredients, art, and the people who surround her. These inspirations have confirmed Crystal’s philosophy that dishes don’t have to be complicated to be good. UNION’s ever changing seasonal menu, partnered with the mentorship of Chef Bruce Kalman, keeps Crystal in perpetual motion. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Crystal began to build her culinary skills at a young age. Armed with an Easy-Bake Oven, Crystal would host tea parties for her imaginary friends. Her grandmother also served as an early influence, with Crystal waking up Saturday mornings to a house perfumed with her cooking. Regretfully, Crystal never learned her grandmother’s recipes, although her influence over Crystal’s culinary path is by no means coincidental. Equipped with a strong work ethic and the desire to make an impact, Crystal teamed up with St. Anne's in 2008, one of LA’s most profound organizations that offers support to at-risk young women. There she earned the title of Food Service Manager and the organization's Leadership Award. Crystal continues to keep in touch with and support this pivotal organization. Having experienced the power of food in the community, Crystal embarked on a culinary career by enrolling at the Art Institute of California-Hollywood in 2012. Here Crystal was reintroduced to the wonderful world of baking. Crystal admits that baking felt, at times, overly tedious and measured, but it didn’t take long for her to find fun and imagination in it. While in school, she learned of an opportunity to assist Chef Kalman during a Coachella event, although what resulted was a 2nd full-time job as a line cook for The Churchhill Restaurant. Seeing her passion and immense talent, Chef Kalman invited her to be the Production Manager of Bruce’s Prime Pickle Company, and later as a part of his team for a number of pop-up events, including Pork, Pickles, and Pasta at Tiago Café with Chef Gavin Mills. Crystal maintains her inspiration by feeding her love of art, and relaxes by reading and working on the restoration of her old Ford Mustang. She looks forward to graduating this summer with a Bachelors in Culinary Management from the Culinary Art Institute, and continuing to lend her expertise to the artisanal, Italian-inflected desserts at UNION.
Marie Petulla is a Chicago native with a strong Midwestern work ethic. She’s not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get to work, a key component to a successful career in the restaurant business. With over fifteen years in multiple restaurant positions, Petulla brings a world of hospitality and front-of-house experience to the table. All of her cultivated talents and background in service play a key role in opening Union, her new Pasadena restaurant, where she plans on creating a personal and intimate dining experience for each guest. In 2001, Marie landed a great opportunity working with Nicole Parthemore and Dana Hechtman at She She in Chicago where she was hired to manage the restaurant. It was there that Petulla began to appreciate the restaurant businesses’ perfect juxtaposition of creativity and business. After four years at She She, Petulla moved west to Los Angeles and quickly landed a General Manager opportunity with the Best Restaurant Group where she ran Firefly in Studio City for a number of years. The thought of opening her own restaurant became very attractive and the perfect opportunity presented itself when she teamed up with celebrated chef and pickle king Bruce Kalman. Together they envisioned Union, an intimate 50-seat restaurant catering to Northern Italian cuisine that showcases fresh, California ingredients. A veteran in running front-of-house operations, Petulla’s goal is to create a unique yet intimate experience, where each patron feels welcomed and at home. She prides herself on developing a team that works as a family that delivers quality service to pair with an incredible meal.
Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Bruce has spent almost his entire life working in kitchens, and was trained by some of the nation’s top chefs. His culinary career began at a local pizzeria owned by a family friend, where he fell in love with fresh ingredients and the beat of the kitchen. He attended a small hands-on culinary program at Hudson County Community College in Jersey City, NJ, where he began to hone his skills. Bruce has since traveled the United States, working in New York City with David Burke at Park Ave Cafe, and in Chicago with Paul Bartalotta at Spiaggia. His executive chef stints span the nation from Chicago (Okno, Green Dolphin Street and Coco Pazzo) to Santa Fe, NM (Il Piatto) and Phoenix, AZ (Chelsea’s Kitchen). Bruce made the final move to Los Angeles, CA to open The Misfit in Santa Monica, serving farmer’s market driven fare, with a strong emphasis on Northern Italian and Mediterranean flavors and preparations. He continued this tradition as executive chef of The Churchill in West Hollywood, CA, where he continued to perfect the art of hand crafted cuisine. House made charcuterie and pickles, along with fresh pasta and desserts are some of the highlights of the menu at this market driven restaurant.Accolades include a James Beard nomination for “Rising Star Chef”, and appearances on many local and national TV programs, including the Food Network, mostly recently the winner of Chopped, season 15, episode 1 “head’s up”, aired 3/31/13. Bruce left the Churchill to start his specialty company, Bruce’s Prime Pickle Co, a line of “vine to jar”, hand packed pickled vegetables inspired by fresh, seasonal produce of the west coast.