A typical workday for former governor Fife Symington used to include Cabinet meetings, huddles with lawmakers and a dark suit and tie.
Not anymore. The onetime real estate developer, forced from office after being convicted of bank fraud in 1997, has reinvented himself -- as a pastry chef.
He and Franco Fazzuoli, a chef and restaurateur, opened Franco's Italian Caffe in February.
"This is where my heart is," Symington said. "I'd rather be doing this than making money. It's a great experience. . . . I get to start all over again, and that's a great thing to do."
His specialties now include tiramisu -- spongecake pieces soaked in coffee and liqueur, layered with cheese and chocolate -- and his own chocolate mousse cake recipe, dubbed "The Governor (high taste, low taxes)."
Although his convictions were eventually overturned, Symington resigned as governor in September 1997, an hour after a federal jury convicted him on bank fraud charges that stemmed from his bankrupted real estate empire.
"At that moment, I absolutely made up my mind I was going to leave without bitterness or recriminations. I was going to chart a different path," Symington said as he stood in the kitchen at Franco's clad in a white chef's smock and apron.
The transition wasn't easy.
Survival was not the issue; he was still wealthy. But overnight, the security detail was gone, as was the administrative staff. Many of his friends were suddenly gone too. And Symington faced the prospect of prison.
He felt naked, he said. "You still have a high profile. People continue to stare at you. You worried about your family, that sort of thing."
While his attorney appealed his conviction, Symington took refuge in culinary school.
Just five months after leaving office, he was scrubbing rubber kitchen floor mats, cleaning deep fat fryers and struggling to learn proper knife technique.
He completed the first six weeks of culinary "boot camp" and spent a year slicing, kneading and sauteing his way to a culinary arts and restaurant management degree. He interned in a restaurant in Scottsdale, Ariz., that Fazzuoli owned at the time.
His legal prospects improved dramatically in 1999, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit overturned his criminal convictions. A pardon issued by President Bill Clinton in January 2001 ensured charges would not be refiled, though Symington insists he eventually would have prevailed anyway.
With his legal troubles behind him, Symington, 57, returned to his entrepreneurial roots -- with a culinary flair. He helped start the Arizona Culinary Institute a year ago.
"This has been a wonderful and exciting time in his life," said Doug Cole, a friend and aide during Symington's administration. "He's just been pursing life with gusto and energy and vigor. It's the old entrepreneurial Fife Symington."
Cole said Symington had always been interested in food. But as governor he gave no indication he wanted to someday spend mornings separating egg whites and yolks and chopping bittersweet chocolate.
Some people still don't believe it, Fazzuoli said. "They think it's a joke."
But he insists that Symington makes tiramisu (the name means "pick me up" in Italian) as well as Fazzuoli's mother does.
Diners who catch a glimpse of Symington wearing his double-breasted white chef's smock are often stunned. "There's sort of a look of shock on people's faces," Symington said.
But going to culinary school has been among the smartest things the former governor has done, Cole said.
"Not only was it a good education from an intellectual standpoint, but from an emotional standpoint, it was therapeutic," he said.
There are few similarities between Symington's previous careers and his new one amid the steamy vats and large trays of seasoned potatoes. But his job site is familiar; Franco's is on the bottom floor of the Camelback Esplanade, an upscale office and retail complex that had been the crown jewel of Symington's real estate empire.
"This project has been a part of my life, for better or worse," he said. "I think it's for the better. I'm happy to have been involved in it."
Would Symington, a Republican, ever attempt a return to Arizona politics?
"It's possible," he said. "I think I did a really good job when I was in office. I stood -- stand -- for the right things.
"But I'm very happy doing what I'm doing now."