I've always loved food. I grew up in Mexico, where the food literally explodes with flavor. For reasons I never understood, my parents insisted on eating American food. My mother had trained the servants to make a few things like fried chicken, pork chops and meatloaf, which rotated predictably throughout the week. They did a good job of it, imitating the American family style flawlessly. But nothing on our table came close to the riot of exciting food they made for themselves. Every chance I got, I used to sneak into the kitchen, sit with the maids and the gardener, and scarf down some mole, chiles rellenos, chilaquiles, or whatever they were having.
I learned from them how to heat a tortilla on an open flame, flipping it bare-handed as it acquired a slight charring. That was my beginning as a cook.
I had no idea then that I would have a career in cooking. I've always seen myself primarily as an artist--someone who loves beauty, craves it, and is driven to create beautiful things. Food was indeed a passion for me, but only one of many.
At first, I thought I was going to be a photographer. My father had a darkroom and taught me all the tricks. When I was 15, I took a train to Oaxaca and spent a week taking pictures of everything in sight. How my mother let that happen is still a mystery. I assembled a series of prints showing the past and present cultures of Oaxaca that was exhibited in Austin, Texas.
Although photography remains an interest to this day, I had to keep my horizons open. I next began experimenting with metal sculpture, printmaking and mixed media montage. My work was shown at Galería Misrachi and Galería La Bola in Mexico City (sold, too, I might add). A few years later I sold a piece to the owner of Galería Vandrés in Madrid.
At 18, I left home and spent two years living in Switzerland (my parents thought I was in college). I traveled throughout Europe and Morocco, where each town seemed to have its own unique cuisine. As entranced as I was by the rich culture in "the old country"--the widely diverse art, literature, music, architecture--what captured me most was the way these people really celebrated food. It became obvious to me that great culture is inseparable from great food.
Eventually, I moved to the United States and worked at various jobs around the country before settling on a career as a private chef. I never imagined that this would happen. As one French chef quipped, "You don't choose this profession; it chooses you."
I worked in a couple of restaurants, once as head pastry chef at a billionaire's country club, but it didn't agree with me. As a private chef, I not only got to make different food every day and use expensive ingredients, I got to observe human nature at the pinnacle of wealth and power--up close--and feed its underbelly. I think of it as a dual education. During my 25 years serving the rich and famous (including a president and a prime minister), I learned a lot about what we hunger for, and what satisfies.
When you get right down to it, we're all basically the same and we all really want the same things: to feel good, to be complete. The hunger for food is only one facet of our need, but it's a powerful one. To fulfill that need in a way that surprises the imagination, thrills the senses, entertains the intellect and, yes, even nourishes the heart, is not a bad way to make a living.
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