Interview with Chef Ray Vasquez

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Chef Ray Vasquez is the Executive Chef at Pop Champagne and Dessert Bar. Chef Vasquez is the person behind Pop’s most loved desserts and other dishes that will make your mouth water. Chef Vasquez likes to create new dishes out of traditional ingredients to surprise his clients’ palate. As a food lover since an early age, Chef Vasquez believes that one’s passion towards cooking is the best means to become a successful chef. Read on as Chef Vasquez shares his kitchen philosophy.

FE:  How would you describe the cuisine at Pop?

RV: Wow, well we’re all over the place when it comes to our food. Our core dishes are foods that pair well with our variety of champagnes and beer. We definitely follow French technique but my style has been described as Blue Collar with a gourmet twist. My style is a little askew, I really don’t like to go by the book, I take pride into creating dishes that are a little different than what you’re used to! And we are a dessert bar, so our dessert menu will have any sweet tooth fix. From a souffle that changes daily to ice creams that flavors are always changing and that are very non traditional, like popcorn, ants on a log, chocolate habanero, maple pancake, we’ve done hundreds!

FE:  Tell me a bit more about your culinary history.

RV: Right out of Cordon Bleu, I moved to Big Island, Hawaii and worked at the Mauna Lani Hotel and Resort, worked at every kitchen outlet, from the beach grill to The Canoe House, the hotels fine dining restaurant. I moved back to the mainland and I’ve worked The Ritz Carlton, and Langham in Pasadena.

FE:  Did you cook growing up?

RV: Yeah as a matter of fact I did. My mother would work late hours sometimes and usually she would have dinner ready to go, but sometimes we would have to whip something up. Grilled Cheese and Quesadillas always seemed to be the easiest things! Egg sandwiches on the weekends, seem to be my earliest kitchen experience too. I think i was probably around 10 or 11.

FE:  Who in your life has influenced your cooking the most?

RV: Around the age of 15, I remember watching the early Emeril show, Yan Can Cook and Julia Child shows and I used to love watching them. I would imitate Julia Child when I would cook, in Julia Child voice and everything. I was a little embarrassed to admit that. Instead of watching MTV, I was watching food network. But who really Influence me is my mother of course, everyone loves their momma’s cooking! My father is not shy to get in the kitchen either. They both keep me going!  My girlfriend, family and friends and all my loved ones encourage me a lot and that motivates me!

FE:  What made you decide you would become a professional cook?

RV: Ever since a young age I had gained an interest cooking food, and knew I wanted to pursue this career and right out high school I looked  into culinary school but I was hesitant. I felt I was still young and didn’t want jump into a big commitment yet and took a different approach. I went to community college, took some Restaurant Management classes but once in class, I was more interested in actually cooking the food. So I gave up on the management idea and did a complete 180 and started taking child development classes. I got a job for the YMCA and stared working with kids. Just after two years I became director of a site and I loved it, it was fun but I knew it wasn’t my passion. I knew deep down food was my passion! At age 23 decided it was time to go to culinary school and take it serious and dive in head first! And I haven’t stopped sprinting since.

FE:  What misconceptions do people have coming into the field?

RV: That you go to school and get a piece of paper and Wam Bam you are a Chef, that is not the case. You have to put in a lot of time, hours, blood, sweat and tears. You’ll miss holidays, family get-together’, and a lot of weekends. Its not all “30 mins meals”. It can be tough, you just have to be tougher

FE:  Best cooking tip for a novice?

RV: Patience. You must have patience, when cooking, some of the best foods take a long time to cook. Braising or Slow cooking are one my favorite cooking techniques, whether its short ribs, duck confit, or veal cheek, the final product and your taste buds will benefit with time.

FE:  Which three cooking tools or gadgets are your favorites?

RV: Damn, there’s so many that I love! But if I have to pick three: Kitchen aid mixer, Its bright red and we call it Ruby. It does it all. its getting all day, everyday!  Sharpie! you must label everything! Plus I always have a tiny notepad with me also and I’m always jotting notes, or ideas for new dishes. Tasting Spoon. A key to every chef! You must taste for food, not only to make sure its okay for the guest but it helps develop your palate and recognize these flavors. Down-side, is there’s a lot of uncounted calories in my day!

FE:  Ok, that is the first time I hear a sharpie, but it makes a lot of sense. Did your funniest kitchen incident involve a sharpie?

RV: No. Well its funny now but at the time it was so embarrassing and I could’ve gotten seriously hurt, but I didn’t, I was ok! I had a huge pot of lentil soup cooking and It was done, I completed the soup and I left it on top of the stove for a second because I was doing multiple things. Once I was ready to remove the lentil soup, the oven timer went off, I stopped and left the pot of soup to take out what was in the oven. As I make that slight turn towards the oven, little did I know, I left the pot of soup on the edge of the stove and the pot started sliding down to the floor, landing on its bottom! I tried to “catch” it, failed of course, and the soup landing on its bottom created this volcano effect and my face was directly over the pot of soup! It looked like that old Nickelodeon show where they dump slime on your head! Yeah that was my face with the lentil soup! I washed up the best I could and continued to work! Throughout the night I would find a piece of lentil in my ear in my hair, It was gross!

FE:  Favorite food to cook with?

RV: I have a lot of essentials in the kitchen, i love making garlic confit because I add garlic to almost everything and the oil can be used to infuse flavor to marinades or sautes. But if there’s one that I’m just addicted to, has to be chorizo! Ever since I was a kid, chorizo con huevo, there’s just nothing better. If I can make the entire menu all chorizo dishes, I would and it’d be delicious.

FE:  When at home, what do you like to eat?

RV: Usually something quick and easy. I’m in a kitchen all day so when I’m at home, I want something fast! I’ll usually have a PB & J, or cereal (I love my Frosted Flakes). I always have tortillas in my fridge also, so I like to make tacos with whatever meat we have in the fridge. Or my favorite thing in the whole wide world, an Egg, cheese and again, whatever meat is in the fridge, sandwich!

FE:  Your favorite cookbook?

RV: So many! I love all Keller Books, Ad Hoc is great, French Laundry is life changing! El Bulli, I just started to dip into. I love the Flavor Bible also, great reference book!

FE: Is there a specific etiquette in your kitchen that you pride yourself in?

RV: I tend to zone out and I’m just completely engaged to the food! Whether I’m fabricating meat or chopping or completing a dish, I’m just 100% focused on the food. It’s kind of weird and I’ll catch myself and start a conversation or bring up a topic to the staff! But I love how I can look at whatever is on my cutting board and we’ll be in our own world!

Chef Vasquez shared his Truffle Mac and Cheese Recipe for those of us who are too far to make it to Pop.

Sauce:

1/4 cup butter

4oz. A.P. four

1 T. Black Truffle Shavings

2 T. Sea Salt

4 Cups Milk

1 Cup White Cheddar

1/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese

1t. Truffle Salt

to taste: truffle oil

1 Cup. Panko Bread Crumbs

2 T. Olive oil

Kosher Salt and Pepper

Choice of Pasta (we use Shells!)

Oyster Mushrooms (Deep Fried till crispy)

Salt and pepper

For Sauce, add Butter to a sauce pot on med heat and melt. add flour and create a roux. Add your truffle shavings, salt and milk. Mixture will thicken once brought to a boil. Add cheese and stir to avoid burning at the bottom. Finish with truffle oil.

Crumbs: preheat oven 350 degrees, add crumbs to mixing bowl, add oil and pinch of salt and pepper. Mix well and put crumbs into sheet pan and bake for ten minutes, stirring crumbs after 5 minutes.

Oyster Mushrooms: Fry in a fryer, 350 degrees till crispy. about 4 minutes.

If you happen to be in the area, make sure to check out Pop Champagne and Dessert Bar; located at 33 E. Union St. Pasadena, CA 626-7951295

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Blanca Valbuena
I am one of the co-founders of FriendsEAT. Obviously, I love to eat. Other passions include A Song of Ice and Fire, Shakespeare, Dostoyevski, and Aldous Huxley.
Blanca Valbuena
Blanca Valbuena

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