‘Growing up in my parents’ restaurant, you take in everything, helping out in every way.’
“Growing up in my parents’ restaurant, El Tazumal in Glen Cove, you take in everything, helping out in every way. The food is Salvadorian staples, pupusas, eggs, plantains. Everything is homemade.
“My parents came here in 1977 or 1978, they were from the countryside and they had land, but it got taken away from them when the war began and it got dangerous.
“Both my grandmas were awesome cooks. I learned the basics from them, soups and stocks. They would make a lot of different cuts of meats that not everyone eats, beef’s tongue or pig’s feet, but it was so good.
“My parents’ business is mostly a to-go business, serving Salvadorians immigrants who often don’t have kitchens, so I know how to expedite the food and get it out. At 19, I left my parents’ restaurant, and got a job in an assisted living facility working mostly with frozen and canned stuff, but I learned a lot of ingredients and basic recipes.
“Then I started working at busy French and Italian restaurants on the weekend. I’ve been cooking for 20 years, and I learned a lot from Long Island being multicultural and all the great chefs I worked with.
‘Do you want to cook for the rest of your life or do you want to be a chef?’
“I worked at Prime in Huntington for years, started as a cook, and Chef Gregg Lauletta asked me, ‘Do you want to cook for the rest of your life or do you want to be a chef?’ He was kind of mentoring me, made me sous-chef and from there, I went to other restaurants and then to Tellers Chophouse in Islip.
“Waterzooi opened a new place in Port Washington and they hired me as the new chef de cuisine and we were doing really well for the first two months and then COVID happened. I’ve been working six days a week, doubles through the pandemic, doing to-go orders, and outdoor dining. Waterzooi is a Belgian bistro. The signature dish is a Belgian fish, we sell tons of mussels and lobsters.
“Chefs would come to me for the plating. I love colors, so I’m always daydreaming about colors and dishes. I learned a lot from the chefs I worked with, people who didn’t look anything up. They just knew it. But the creativity is all me.”