I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but grew up in Venezuela from age 5 to 19, moving back to the US in 1989.

My love for cooking started as a child. Since I come from a big family on my father’s side, our house would fill with friends and family on the weekends, cooking together with music playing in the background. Even as a kid, I loved seeing how cooking brought people together. It’s one of the things I love most.

In December 1994, I moved to SF with the firm conviction I wanted to become a chef. I got my first job as a breakfast cook at a well-regarded restaurant after lying on my application and saying I had kitchen experience. My only experience was working as a waiter at a fast-casual establishment in Tulsa years prior. I was a shy, gay 24-year-old walking into a world I had no knowledge of, with no idea I’d gotten my first job at a restaurant considered a pillar of the culinary community with a chef that was a legend. I got fired three months later when everyone realized I lacked experience.

Nonetheless, it was an intense and eye-opening experience that I cherish and look back to even after 29 years in the industry. Having started my cooking career in SF, I was never subjected to any anti-LGBTQ behavior—quite the opposite. I understand that’s not the case for everyone; much depends on a restaurant’s location and management/ownership. But to make the restaurant industry safer, we need to keep being visible and educating those around us.

This career is beautiful, and I always tell people it’s the kind of career you enter if you love to cook and work with your hands. It demands a lot on your mind and body, and I was ready to walk away plenty of times. But in the end, seeing the joy on people’s faces when you serve them dishes they love makes it all worth it. If you genuinely want to do this, pay your dues, work hard, and it will ultimately pay off. Have confidence in your skills but be humble.

I love that this is my passion, and I’m lucky I can do it for a living.