961 Winterberry Drive, Marco
Executive Chef, Sasso’s International Cuisine & Seafood, 961 Winterberry Dr., Marco Island. Phone: 393-4960., Hours: 5 p.m. to closing Tuesday through Sunday.
Began working at present restaurant?
In November 2007.
Who or what inspired you to become a chef/cook?
When I was growing up in Ecuador, good food was an important part of my life. Then in the early 1980s the family moved to Boston where I continued my education in the local high school and also started working part-time in a Chinese restaurant after school. I really liked it, and decided to enroll in culinary school and make it my career. After high school, I enrolled in the culinary arts program at Johnson & Wales University in Providence — it was only a 45-minute commute from Boston — and graduated from the School of Culinary Arts and Sciences.
What was your first restaurant job?
I was working for the Sheraton Corporation in Boston traveling around the U.S. opening Sheraton restaurants from Boston to California, and even Canada. My favorite one was the Sheraton Fallsview Hotel’s Penthouse Dining Room with a five-star 80-foot buffet and a fantastic view of Niagara Falls from the Canadian side. If you’re asking about my first restaurant job in Southwest Florida, I was corporate chef for the Culinary Concepts restaurant group where I opened the very popular, award-winning Yabba Island Grill 10 years ago and most recently the Blue Water Bistro at Coconut Point before coming to Sasso’s in November 2007.
How long have you been cooking professionally?
More than 30 years.
Do food trends affect your cooking style?
No, I prefer to express my personal style, based on my extensive experience, and create my own dishes. This is why I’m so enthusiastic about our International Series Menus — creating original dishes based on ethnic ingredients and seasonings but with my own twist
Are you planning changes to your menu for the new season?
Actually, we will continue our very popular and successful International Weeks that our customers really like, and many come back saying they enjoy the variety along with the wine pairings we suggest for each item on the menu that can be ordered by the glass or bottle. For instance, through Sept. 28 we are featuring a Japanese menu and then starting Sept. 30, we will be visiting Cuba.
What is your most popular dish?
Our fish and seafood entrees prepared in the flavor of that country. As an example for the International Japanese menu we will be using an impeccably fresh whole fish, pan-seared baby yellowtail.
What is your favorite wine/food?
I like fresh swordfish. It’s meaty and flavorful, and you can prepare it anyway you want and it pairs beautifully with red wine!
Do you cook at home? If so, what would we always find in your pantry?
No, my wife does the cooking for the family and does the shopping for the household as well.
What is your secret ingredient? Why?
My love for cooking flavors every dish I create.
What would you like to be doing if you weren’t a chef?
A cardiologist’s concern is heart health and I believe if you eat healthy your body is healthy.
What annoys you most in the kitchen?
Shortcuts! There’s a right way and the wrong way, of course, is shortcuts.
What do you enjoy most about your profession?
I take pleasure in everything I do, and I especially enjoy creating new dishes for our International Series. We started with Italian and I don’t see us going around the whole culinary world for a good while — Greece, Morocco — the list is endless!