What made you choose a career as a chef?
My parents migrated from El Salvador and I was born in East L.A. I grew up in Baldwin Park and really struggled. I didn’t even think I was going to graduate high school. One day, the career counselor called me into his office and I thought I was in for a bad meeting. But, turns out he was a former chef and he thought I was a fit for it. He’s the one who inspired me to pursue this field. It’s been nothing but amazing!
What was your most memorable restaurant job?
Every day at the Red O is awesome, really. But I did have the opportunity to work for Chef John Burton Race at the 2-star Michelin restaurant, New Angel, in Dartmouth, England. I had a 3-month scholarship and it was definitely the biggest 90 days of my life.
The whole life and culture over there for a chef is different there – it carries such prestige. At the same time, it carries a heavy weight of expectation. There’s a sense of urgency in the European kitchen – there’s no down time when you’re working over there.
The restaurant was so well known that people traveled from all over the world to eat there. The ability to get to know different cultures in the culinary world was so eye-opening. Food crosses boundaries in extraordinary ways, and I guess that’s the biggest lesson I came back to the States with. I was on a mission to do the same thing.
How did you get involved with Red O?
When I came back to the States, I started opening restaurants for Nordstroms all over the country. Corporate life had its benefits, but I wanted to be able to experiment more with food. I heard about Rick Bayless’s Red O concept and already thought so highly of him that I really wanted to find a way in. They let me do a tasting for them, and it just worked out.
What did you prepare for the tasting?
I did a gnocchi with chimichurri and charred octopus, a deconstructed short rib with a corn soufflé and a toasted goat cheese watermelon salad with chili lime dressing. It all worked! (You never know if it’s going to go your way.) I don’t play with my food, but I DO like to be playful when it comes to food. It needs to be a fun experience for everyone.
What’s your favorite menu item now?
Probably the black ceviche – Ceviche Negro. It has this great charred octopus flavor with broth and onions and habaneros. We cook ancho chiles in a slow oven overnight and add those in for color. Then, it’s just the Vitamix with lime juice, garlic and a few more spices, which flavors the broth. It just has all this depth of flavor – it’s like tasting a really great wine.
Last year was your first at OC Chef’s Table, yes?
Yes – last year I was there with Mark, our regional chef. This coming March, I’m on my own! I really can’t wait – any part we can contribute to raise money for these kids and their families that are struggling … we’re all in.
The top chefs in Orange County (along with a few surprise visiting chefs) are getting together again for the renowned OC Chef’s Table at Disneyland® Resort on March 3, 2019.
In it 6th year, OC Chef’s Table continues to help Illumination Foundation raise funds to provide permanent housing and services for homeless adults and children. With OC’s most imaginative chefs creating one-of-a-kind magical menus, it’s no wonder OC Chef’s Table is one of the most coveted gala tickets of the year.
See all 40+ chefs participating and secure your ticket at OCChefsTable.com. And, get to know this year’s phenomenal chefs as Diane Armitage sits down with each, asking 5 questions in just 5 minutes …