Derek

Derek

I’ve been part of the @camillus_house kitchen for 14 years. I’ve always had a passion for cooking, and Camillus allowed me to turn that passion into a career. It’s been an enormous blessing.

I found Camillus initially as a client, having struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol. The turning point came when my mother passed away while I was in prison. Her passing pushed me to reevaluate my life. Amid my struggles, I turned to prayer; my pastor and church led me to Camillus House, where I received a fresh start.

Upon entering the Camillus program, the director at the time recognized my potential and became my mentor. Under his guidance, I explore the dynamics of the kitchen, learning the do’s, the don’ts, the ends, and the outs, attending seminars and hospitality institutes to refine my skills.

Three years later, after rigorous training and hands-on experience, I officially joined the Camillus House kitchen as an employee. Today, I am the Chef and kitchen supervisor. I am forever grateful for the chance to give back to those in similar situations I once faced.

At Camillus House, we serve approximately 300 residents daily, providing them breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Additionally, we extend our services to 100 individuals from outside the facility every morning, totaling around 400 for weekday breakfast. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we prepare a hot lunch for individuals who don’t reside at Camillus House.

My journey taught me the importance of admitting struggles and seeking help. For anyone facing addiction, whether in the kitchen industry or elsewhere, the first step is acknowledging the problem. There are numerous resources to offer support if you are open to receiving it. I understand the challenges that come with overcoming addiction. Miracles happen when you take that step toward recovery, and I’m a living testament to the transformative power of seeking help and embracing a new path in life.


Alexander Mackey

Alexander Mackey

I’m the culinary mind behind Bar Pif in Amsterdam. Hailing from Canada, my journey into gastronomy was a challenging path. It all began when my wife and I, both hairdressers at the time, found ourselves in Switzerland craving better meals than we could cook. So, we boldly decided to transition careers and dive into the food world.

After enrolling in culinary school in Canada, I was drawn to Vancouver’s culinary scene. Despite the challenges of COVID and visa uncertainties, my wife and I leaped to Europe, landing in Amsterdam just in time to join the team at Bar Pif.

Starting amid closures and restrictions was daunting, but it allowed me to develop dishes from the comfort of my own kitchen. Armed with a passion for natural wine and innovation, I created a solid menu.

At Bar Pif, we’re more than just a kitchen; we’re a tight-knit team dedicated to pushing culinary boundaries while fostering a supportive environment. From breadmaking to crafting dishes inspired by diverse culinary influences, each team member plays a vital role in bringing our creations to life.

In a city where tradition meets innovation, I strive to create dishes that reflect the eclectic tapestry of flavors I’ve encountered throughout my culinary journey. From Asian-inspired dumplings to Mexican food.

I remain committed to embracing change and challenging conventions as the industry evolves. With pop-ups, wine pairings, and seasonal food, I continue to push the boundaries of gastronomy while staying true to my roots. With each dish, I invite diners on a journey of flavors, exploring together the diverse influences that have shaped my culinary identity.

📸 & interviewed 🎤 by @delphine.cookk official HOTK Reporter


Natalia Cocoma

Natalia Cocoma

Since the age of 7, I’ve been in the world of music, which I study at the National University of Colombia. At the age of 20, I had to take a break because of tendinitis. That’s when my hobby for cooking took a more serious turn. In my family, we’ve always been connected with nature. We have a business in beekeeping and vinegars, and I’ve always been interested in all these biology-related topics.

Being a musician has made me more sensitive, providing me with a unique perspective to appreciate composition in many aspects of cooking. I associate each ingredient not only by understanding its nature but also by appreciating the people behind them. We value and respect each product and its utility.

During that break, I started to research and cook more. My association with a seed bank here in Colombia helped me in the development of my passion. So, I decided to take different cooking courses in Ibagué and Bogotá. I began implementing my knowledge in haute cuisine, starting with pastry and gradually moving up to Sous Chef.

The chef who gave me the opportunity to be in this position believed in me. He liked my unique perspective and saw the potential for me to lead. He chose me to be in charge when he left. During the transition, we gradually added more women to the team, as I was the only one at the beginning.

The chef began to see the balance in the kitchen and what women brought to the profession. If we go beyond everything, even natural cycles are connected to women’s cycles, and I feel that we have a unique sensitivity that can contribute to the creative and leadership development of any kitchen. Beyond gender, in Oda we understand the mission of each person and how to collaborate for everyone’s growth. Each team member has a different story and career. Understanding our individual strengths and what we are passionate about makes us a better team.

Being the youngest kitchen in the list of Latam 50 best and having the youngest team fuels us every day. But beyond being for us, I feel that this is for Colombia, for each of our suppliers. For a country that has everything and is so complete.


Greg Laudner

Greg Laudner

Since childhood, I’ve been captivated by food, glued to the TV, watching culinary icons like Julia Child. By 16, I was already immersed in restaurant work, learning the ropes firsthand. At 18, I dove into culinary school in San Francisco, where the city’s diverse cuisine ignited my imagination. Armed with newfound knowledge, I ventured into respected kitchens. However, I discovered my true passion when I began traveling independently, exploring different global cuisines, and carving out my culinary path.

I’ve been living in Guatemala for 18 years, off and on, and It was during my time running a lodge in Lanquin that I met my wife. Following that, we relocated to Asia, where we found inspiration, spending four enriching years in Vietnam and Cambodia, where the seeds of my culinary venture began to sprout.

After stumbling upon Paredon, I’ve been here for eight years, running my restaurant for the past 5. Inspired by the laid-back vibe of Asia, I created @chef_in_flip_flops blending top-notch cuisine with a relaxed beach atmosphere.

Eight years ago, sourcing ingredients was a challenge with limited availability. Adapting, I craft our menu based on what’s on hand, ensuring we always have something delicious to serve. Logistics have improved, though, allowing flexibility with our menu. Yet, after 25 years, I’ve learned that a fixed menu must showcase dishes I love cooking. Collaboration with other colleagues can spark creativity, leading to unique and sometimes quirky creations. On Saturdays we feature Pablo’s special BBQ menu, adding zest to our offerings.

Exploring Guatemalan cuisine has been a journey. Though authentic dishes can be elusive, as a passionate “Gringo,” I’ve pondered if I can do them justice. Yet, recalling my success introducing Pho to Guatemala, I’m eager to experiment with traditional Guatemalan fare on our menu. I am excited to see how our customers embrace the flavors.

Interviewed & 📸 @christianguval HOTK Coastal Reporter 🌴


Jhony Alejandro Patiño

Jhony Alejandro Patiño

In our family, we’ve always had this thing for BBQ get-togethers. We are seven siblings, and even though we’ve all moved on with our lives, those reunions have been our constant. It’s like saying to our parents that we’re still here for each other.
Food and especially grilling in an open fire has been a common ground, bringing us together.

My journey into the professional culinary world started at El Sena. After some experiences in casual restaurants and hotels, one day, looking into new opportunities, I stepped into @carmenrestaurante for an interview, and it just made sense. The owner’s vision, the tools, the knowledge – it all clicked for me. When I came for my interview and saw a few chefs at a table discussing menu ideas, I thought, “I want in on those conversations.”

Fast forward 13 years, and now I’m leading one of the restaurant group concepts. But let me rewind to the first three years -where things took a real turn for me. The chef threw this idea at us about aging meat. Seven years ago, especially in Colombia, this was new, and the equipment and specific cuts we needed weren’t anywhere to be found!

We had to start from scratch, starting from the cuts of meat, working with a butcher who had his animals, and guiding him exactly how we wanted them. In the journey from meat sourcing to the aging and cooking process, we messed up a bunch of pounds before we finally got it right. That was when we realized our meat was unique, and we needed to roll with it and treat it differently. Back then, everyone was all about certified imported meat, but our mission was to show that Colombian beef is just as good.

Learning from other cultures and techniques is essential, but the real magic is understanding our own and what makes it different. In the first year, Nobody understood what we were doing. But slowly, things started picking up, and now we’re about to open our second spot.

Thinking back on the journey, it’s pretty wild. None of this would’ve happened without the farmers and artisans – who bought into our ideas and, of course, the trust of the Chef, the whole team, and our community.


Jaqueline Willard

Jaqueline Willard

In 2018, I found myself in the darkest times without a home on the streets of Miami, looking for help through the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust System; I stumbled upon @lotushouseshelter , a women’s shelter that would become my lifeline. From the moment I stepped through its doors, I knew this place was different—it wasn’t just a roof over my head but a beacon of hope in my most challenging times.

As I settled into my new surroundings, I was drawn to the kitchen. It started with volunteering, a way to give back to the community that had welcomed me with open arms. But as I chopped vegetables and stirred pots, I discovered a passion for cooking. It became my solace, a refuge from the uncertainties of life on the streets. With my background in kitchens from my teenage years, I quickly found my footing in the kitchen. What began as a volunteer gig soon turned into an internship, and before I knew it, I was offered a full-time position as a supervisor.

Today, as the kitchen manager at Lotus House, I oversee the preparation of three meals daily for the shelter residents and an additional three meals for those living on the streets. But my role goes beyond just cooking—I see the kitchen as a place of
healing for myself and others. There’s something therapeutic about creating a meal, knowing that each dish I prepare comforts someone in need.

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is the gratitude I receive from those I serve. Whether it’s a simple thank you or a heartfelt compliment about a dish, I know that my efforts are making a difference in the lives of others. And for me, that’s all about—bringing warmth and nourishment to those who need it most.

I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity I’ve been given to turn my life around. Through hard work and determination, I have found stability and become a light of hope for others facing similar struggles. I realized that food made with love, regardless of wherever you are, has the power to make you feel at home.


Cecilia

Cecilia Manuela Sanchez

I am from Tumaco, Nariño, on the Pacific Coast of Colombia. Since the age of 14, I have worked in front of a wood-burning stove. My grandmother was a cook, and her work was unique as she focused on catering to the local farmers. This kept us constantly on the move as we set up kitchens and wood-burning stoves in front of the crops and often in the middle of the jungle!

Many times, we used what they produced, such as yuca, corn, etc., and prepared chicken or pork Sancocho stews using the animals raised in the area. As time passed, my town became a place of conflict, war, and violence in the country, and we had no choice but to be displaced from our homes with no other option to go to the capital in search for help and opportunities.

Upon arriving in Bogotá, I was fortunate to land my first job in a restaurant as a waitress. Despite being displaced, finding the kitchen and that connection with the restaurant made it easier for me to adapt to the big city, as I didn’t feel completely disconnected from what I used to do back home.

Gradually, I transitioned into different kitchens, working in various seafood places, until I found @testigobgta where I felt like I was back in my hometown, cooking with my grandmother over a wood fire and preparing a large pot of Sancocho!


Ajai Sharma

My culinary journey began with a childhood fascination for kitchen alchemy, inspired by my grandmother’s ability to turn raw ingredients into culinary masterpieces. This passion led me to The Culinary Institute of America, where I earned an Associate in Culinary Arts. Later I received a Bachelor’s in Hotel Management and certifications as a ServSafe Manager and certified Sommelier.

As Sous Chef at The Residents in NYC, I discovered the transformative power of local, seasonal ingredients. The journey continued at an Italian culinary haven, where I delved into Mediterranean cuisine intricacies, honing my leadership skills and culinary craftsmanship.

A pivotal moment during my externship at Michelin-starred restaurnat became a crucible of culinary and personal growth. Faced with high expectations and intense pressure, I discovered resilience, precision, and a deep passion for gastronomy. It shaped my commitment to excellence, instilling perseverance as a guiding force in all aspects of my life. That day catalyzed my personal and professional growth, shaping my skills as a chef, as well as my character and approach to challenges.

Beyond the kitchen, I shared culinary insights through the podcast “Bite In with Bawarchi” and publications, exploring trends and engaging in meaningful conversations about food and culture. Through active involvement in the Indian Culinary Forum, I stayed curious and embraced diversity.

As a chef, I have a deep appreciation for the culinary industry. Still, I hope to see positive changes in several areas, such as diversity and inclusion, sustainability practices, work-life balance, education and mentorship, and technological integration, among others.
Addressing these aspects can make the culinary industry more inclusive, sustainable, and adaptable to changing needs.

In essence, my kitchen story is a mosaic of experiences, with each dish contributing to the masterpiece of my culinary identity. Each encounter has been a lesson, shaping me not just as a chef but as a culinary storyteller, eager to contribute to the evolving narrative of gastronomy.

 

What is your favorite street food?

Falafel Wrap with Hummus and Pita

Which restaurant or food stand do you recommend? (Different from yours) (Add its Instagram handle if possible)

@ichiran

What is your guilty pleasure?

Dal Dhokli

What ingredient do you find overrated?

Truffle Oil

What ingredient do you think is underrated?

Black Garlic

What is your favorite kitchen tool?

Twizzers

What is your worst kitchen nightmare?

One of the worst kitchen nightmares for me could be discovering a major equipment failure right in the midst of a busy dinner service. Picture this: the ovens stop working, the refrigeration is on the fritz, and essential cooking equipment malfunctions, all while a full house of hungry diners awaits their meals. This scenario would not only disrupt the flow of the kitchen but also jeopardize the ability to serve quality dishes on time, potentially leading to unhappy customers and a significant hit to the restaurant’s reputation.

Is there someone you would like to nominate for an interview? (Add Instagram handle)

@abetrovert


Daan Van Duijnhoven

Daan Van Duijnhoven

I’ve been a chef for five years, specializing in vegan cuisine. After being a newspaper designer for 17 years, I made a significant career shift, and today, I am a sous chef Boonbon, leading a team of four chefs. Before training in the kitchen, I did a short vegetarian course in the Netherlands.

I believe I was called to this profession; the act of cooking itself and being vegan became integral to my mission. Before becoming a chef, I embraced veganism to contribute to a better world. I sought something more uplifting and in tune with my soul. While I secretly dreamed of becoming a chef, the transition seemed challenging.

As a youngster, I was into punk and hardcore music, and it led me down a conscious path. I’ve been a vegetarian since around 1994. Transitioning to veganism took time, especially while raising a family. I was like everyone, indoctrinated, but we took small steps. Working as a vegan chef, I showcase the possibilities of plant-based cuisine, contributing to the growing vegan scene in Amsterdam without pushing others into veganism. It’s about creating good taste and demonstrating that vegan food can be inventive yet delicious.

While our restaurant at the hotel caters to a variety of guests, the vegan options attract a niche audience seeking fine dining experiences. Ayatya, is the creative designer of our diverse menu, incorporating various ingredients to make it our own. Working with vegan food demands openness to experimentation, and currently, we’re infusing vegetables into desserts, such as churros with mushrooms.

As the culinary industry evolves, there’s a growing demand for well-trained chefs who can meet the unique challenges of vegan cuisine. I do think culinary education is essential for aspiring chefs, providing a foundation in basic skills. While self-taught chefs from the vegan scene bring purpose, formal education offers a structured approach and exposure to different kitchen dynamics. Looking to the future, I hope for more organic practices in the industry and increased recognition for vegan culinary schools, paving the way for a more sustainable future.
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Interviewed & 📸by @delphine.cookk


Jeison Panqueba

My name is Jeison Panqueba, and I am from Saboya, Boyacá. My family has had a deep connection with nature for generations, and agriculture has been our primary economic source. I grew up in the fields, and as time passed, I had the opportunity to learn from a Spanish chef who opened a restaurant in my town. Under his guidance, I learned to cook Mediterranean dishes like paella and various pastas.

In this culinary journey, a good friend of mine played a pivotal role. This friend had a connection with a chef from a fine dining establishment in Bogotá. That chef was conducting research in my region about its food and culture. My friend suggested I undergo a test at the restaurant to see how well I could adapt. Despite my initial uncertainty, I decided to try it due to our mutual friendship.

From the very first day, I was captivated by the kitchen’s operations and the teamwork. It was a big contrast to the place where I used to work, challenging the stereotypes for professional kitchens. I sensed a greater level of respect, and every team member worked together toward a common goal.

It has been an incredible learning experience. The chef and sous chef not only trained me but helped me evolve into the cook I am today. Our relationship went beyond mentorship, as they showed genuine interest in my culture and my region’s food. This connection led us back to my hometown, where they tried the arepas my mom cooks. They loved them so much that the Chef incorporated them into the menu.

My profound connection with the land has allowed me to share knowledge with the restaurant and my colleagues. I’ve become more actively involved in our research efforts and collaborations with local farmers. While I identify as an empiric cook, I aspire for more. This journey has provided me with a clear vision, and this year, I plan to attend culinary school to deepen my knowledge of culinary arts.