My first job in the industry was my first job ever. I was a dishwasher and prep cook at the Ocean Acres Country Club in Manahawkin, NJ. I was 14 years old. I remember coming in to sheet pans stacked to the ceiling! I would also help with basic prep like French toast. The chef at the time was a character and would cook with a lit cigarette in his mouth.
My first Chef mentor was by the name of Robert. He was the one that got me out of the dishpit at Hotel Andaluz and got me cooking. I still follow his methods for soups and green chile stew. I also learned a lot from Chef James Campbell Caruso who was the Executive Chef of MAS tapas y vino when it opened. He was the one that sparked my interest in Spanish cuisine and taught me a lot about the culture in general.
What makes me most proud is having my name on the menu. I put in a lot of time and effort at Hotel Andaluz and worked my way up from the bottom. I get the most joy from my family and friends coming in to the restaurant for the first time and seeing that printed menu with my name and Chef de Cuisine underneath. Before I was a chef I had no title. I had no direction and no drive. Seeing the menu gives me a sense that I have found my purpose. I have found something that is worth-while. Being creative is my favorite part of my job. To be able to create dishes and have the freedom to do so is a great privilege. I will never forget my first tapa that made it on the menu (seared tuna with roasted fennel/garlic puree, red grape vinaigrette, and queso). I am an artist in a lot of ways. I play and compose music, lyrics, and now create food. Making it as a musician is tough so to be able to still have a job where I have that creative outlet is key for me.
One thing I would tell young people entering the hospitality industry is know when it’s time to work. What I mean is to know when it is time to jump on the line but also know when it’s time to be with your family. In this industry it is very easy to work insane amounts of hard hours. It is easy to put work ahead of your personal life, family, and friends. For me, sometimes I just need to put the knife down and walk out the door. There is always tomorrow to pick up where you left off. It is important to be able to leave work at work and not take the stress of this industry home with you. I am able to be a good boss to my staff and stay focused because I am honest with my coworkers and myself. I know my limits and make sure I do not go past them. At the same time they know they can count on me to jump in on a moment’s notice when it is time to work for real. If you are working somewhere and you think they aren’t giving you the correct balance between work and home then go find somewhere else.
I love being in the mountains. Hiking along the Jemez river is one of my favorite things to do in the world. I also love the Chama area by lake Heron. I like being able to hop in my car for a couple hours and drive to what seems like a completely different world than where I live in downtown Albuquerque. I have been all over the state and basically whenever I am spending time in the mountains I am usually happy.
If I weren’t in the hospitality industry I would be doing some other kind of art. As I stated before it is important for me to create for a living. It doesn’t have to be the only thing I do but I need some part of it to be a creative outlet. I could see myself being an art or music teacher. Honestly, I may even go back to school and pursue that career eventually.