By Isaac Cantu :: Photography by Kate Henson
If you were to talk to most farmers, they will quite often tell you that the quality of their product starts with the quality of the seed. Such is true in the building of a great culinary team.
A chef is only as good as his team. This may sound easy, but it is not. You might go through five cooks before you get the right one, but once you do, hold on tight. A lot of training, mentoring and pure passion goes into assembling the right team. I credit my mentor Chef Scott Cohen at La Mansion Del Rio Hotel in San Antonio. I had the passion to succeed and he provided me the tools and knowledge. Over 11 years, I worked my way through the ranks as Cook 2 to Executive Sous Chef, then Chef de Cuisine. My favorite part of being a Chef is the ability to wake up each day and do what I love to do — taste food, create new dishes and combinations, learn new techniques, and make people smile through their taste buds.
At the Club, Christopher Mendoza and Melissa Beverage make up the Sous Chef team. Both are graduates of the Texas Culinary Academy in Austin. Melissa focuses on creating “sweet” things, but don’t let that mislead you. She is well rounded in meat and fish fabrication along with sauces and soups. Christopher is the Chef de Cuisine and runs the P.M. service along with every other facet of kitchen life. Christopher loves precision in the execution of well-designed plates. Creating delectable dishes for mass consumption is his niche.
Then there is the team. It is comprised of young, passionate chefs who are the tools to execute the vision. Each team member has a role in the kitchen with their daily assignments, but each is trained to work all stations – Garde Manger (The Cold Kitchen), Grill and Sauté. Some have mastered each one, and some are in the process and training to master.
I would like to introduce a few teammates. Greg Lopez is my “Pit Man.” He takes pride in all the pit smoking that is done here at the Club. Daniel Wageman is a young chef that is learning all stations, especially the mid slot. That means that he doesn’t work a set station but helps at all of them in setting up and service execution. Felicia Lee works the grill station. She cooks meat, fish and poultry to perfection, while plating tedious presentations. Andrew Guzman works in the pantry and grill. He has been here from the beginning and has welcomed and embraced the new philosophy and culture. Michael Guzman is the Garde Manger chef. He can work everywhere but prefers to focus on all cold food preparation. Philip Aguilar is our opener. He is trained in all areas but takes pride in opening the kitchen for everyday service. Andrea is a new addition. She works in the pastry area but is versed in jumping in and helping the line. Then there is the heart… Carlos. Carlos has also been here since the beginning. He is the dishwasher, but he doesn’t just wash dishes. He cuts, cleans, plates, you name it. He is a machine that helps accomplish all of what the team sets out to do every day, which is to have a great smooth service.
I chose to work at The Clubs of Cordillera because of the culture they were growing and the evolution that the Culinary department needed. Here at the Club we have a very diverse group of members, and a very diverse flow of business. We can do fun and casual food, fine dining, volume and custom dishes. It’s challenging every day, with something new around every corner.
The pressure of catering, breakfast service, lunch service, dinner service and special events are just a few things that must be dealt with on a daily basis. That’s without remembering to use salt and pepper. But the atmosphere at the Club makes every step an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Development and growth, nurturing and mentoring — that is what Cordillera Culinary is all about — building a new generation of great chefs.
Isaac Cantu is the Executive Chef at The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.