Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Pensacola, Florida, and was raised by my grandmother for 5 years while my parents were going to school. My parents moved to the United States in 1976, barely spoke English and lived in a trailer. My mom taught English as a foreign language to Asian immigrants while my dad worked in construction. I stayed with my grandmother on weekdays while they went to school at the University of West Florida.
When did you become interested in cooking? What was your biggest influence?
Growing up in a household with little money, my parents and relatives cooked at home a lot especially with Asian cuisine. I was surrounded by Asian ingredients my entire life especially garlic, soy sauce, five spice, fish sauce, ginger, birds eye hills, jalapeños, limes, cilantro, basil and mint. I would have to say my parents were my biggest influence, however, the more I traveled later in life the more I tried different flavors from around the world.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
Since the age of 15, I have been what we term a foodie nowadays. Coming from very little money, you eat what your family can afford. Sometimes in order to make cheap meats work you use different spices and braising techniques. Also at 15 I had the change to stay in Paris for a month. I really enjoyed the fresh markets out in the streets in certain days. I really fell in love with the culinary arts in 2011.
Did you study culinary arts professionally?
I am self taught. I like to consider my style “freestyle cooking.” I’ve been fortunate enough to eat at some of the best restaurants in the world in the last eight years. Some Michelin star restaurants and some little mom and pop shops. At the end of the day no matter how successful they were, they all cooked with passion, and that is what I was attracted to.
Why did you want to open your own restaurant?
I wanted to open La Brasa because I wanted to offer all of my customers a unique dining experience unlike any other in Oklahoma City. I have been fortunate enough to eat at some amazing restraints especially in Austin, Miami, DC, Chicago. I wanted to bring back to OKC not only what I enjoyed, but also give my interpretation of it.
What is your favorite kitchen equipment?
My favorite is cooking with a wok because it is so versatile. Lately though I have been experimenting with sous vide cooking which is a classic French style where you cook the food at a certain temperature in a vacuum sealed bag. The result is cooking the meat or vegetable evenly so you don’t overcook it.
What is your best tip for someone just getting started?
Be dedicated, don’t give up and take chances. Respect those who came before you and understand that they made sacrifices and paved a way for everyone in this industry. There are two types of cooks: one for the check an done for the passion. Which one are you? That answer will determine how far you go in the culinary world.
How would you describe the culture at La Brasa?
When I first envisioned La Brasa, I wanted it to be a restaurant serving exotic unique flavors from Peru. After the first year through my travels and experience I decided to offer my interpretation of Latin American and Asian dishes with southern hospitality. I wanted everyone to feel like they were in my dining room or my kitchen while at the same time create unique cocktails and deliver a sophisticated ambience.
Who in the food world do you admire?
Grant Achatz from Alinea. He has tongue cancer in 2007, but still continued to operate the top restaurant in the world at the same time. That is inspiration and motivation like non other.
What are your favorite ingredients to cook with?
I have embraced a lot of Peruvian, Chinese and Korean ingredients lately. I really dislike peas and on slow days I take the chance to be creative and experience with new ingredients and flavors.
Do you have a favorite wine?
Malbec is great with steaks.
What do you like to cook when you’re at home?
Believe it or not, I rarely cook at home unless it is the holidays, then I cook for a family of 20-30. Because I work so much I like to take my wife to different local restaurants in the city. I like to support local businesses and it gives me a chance to try dishes from all the innovative chefs in the city.
What do you do for fun?
I like to hang out with my wife Shannon and my two kids. My son, Saxon, is five and my daughter, Arabella is eight.
Where do you see the restaurant industry going in OKC?
I am very excited to see the growth of OKC. There is a culinary renaissance in OKC and I am stoked to be a part of it. I love the fact that all of these local restauranteurs and chefs are taking changes and dishes are no longer just meat and potatoes. I like the friendly competition among everyone. “Iron sharpens iron” and it forces everyone to be more creative and come up with new innovative concepts, I am glad to be a part of this revolution.