Chef Jaime Chabla: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef

An Interview With Martita Mestey

Martita Mestey
Authority Magazine

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Passion: Hold on to the love of cooking throughout your time and use it as a grounding force to keep coming back to.

As a part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Chef Jaime Chabla.

Chef Jaime Chabla is seasoned with over twenty years of experience working in various kitchens across the industry. Jaime originally moved to the United States from Ecuador in 1992, in search for new opportunities. His passion for the restaurant business began with his first job working as a dishwasher in a restaurant. He is now the executive chef at Tuscany Steakhouse where he runs back of house. He works closely with the owner to curate thoughtful menus, where every dish is created from scratch.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?

I have over twenty years of experience working in various kitchens across the industry. I originally moved to the United States from Ecuador in 1992, in search for new opportunities. I’ve had a passion for the restaurant business since my first job working as a dishwasher in a restaurant.

Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?

I have worked in a variety of kitchens and types of cuisines throughout my career. More recently, I have found success at NYC-based restaurants Tuscany Steakhouse and Italian restaurant Il Monello, which features Italian- American classics like creamy Cacio e Pepe, flavorful Ravioli del Giorno, and Fettuccine al ragù which has a veal and tomato-based pasta.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?

The first couple of jobs I had when arriving in the US, I would work 12–14 hours a day and I would be so exhausted that I would fall asleep the second I sat down. I would make the long commute every day from Queens to Manhattan which only contributed more to the long days. Although I knew long hours came with the job, so I had no reason to complain. It was definitely hard, but I knew that at the end of the week the paycheck would be worth all the hard work, so I could use the money to pay my rent, bills, and send some back to Ecuador to support my family there.

In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?

It is important to put intention behind each dish, from conception, to ingredients and execution. A customer is able to taste when there is attention to detail and the quality ingredients are a part of menu items.

Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?

I don’t have a preference or perfect meal in a sense because I enjoy all food, but if tomorrow was my last day I would ask for Seafood Pasta as my final meal.

Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?

I love gathering from Italian classic recipes and also focusing on fresh and local ingredients from surrounding areas to create a well-rounded menu.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?

I have been very busy with the re-opening of Il Monello, which returned after a 14-year hiatus in December 2022. We have been catching our stride building out the menu that creates loyal customers to continue to return.

What advice would you give to other chefs or restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?

My advice for other chefs would be to make sure you are entering this profession because you have a passion, and you love what you are doing. If you are doing this just for the money or a side hustle, I would suggest finding something else to do, because cooking is all about passion. It’s not only about making delicious food or making the plate look fancy, but to represent the culture the food is rooted in. It is important to ensure the customers enjoy the food and the dining experience whether they are celebrating a milestone, birthday, or just a simple dinner. Food is about passion and love and if you don’t have that then you don’t belong in the kitchen. And if you love it then there will be less burnout because it’s something that is your true passion.

Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Long Hours. There are a lot of sweat and tears that are shed behind the scenes of a restaurant. Chefs are on their feet from the second they enter the kitchen to when they leave the kitchen at the end of the day.
  • Time away from friends and families. From birthdays to holidays, there are some sacrifices that a chef must make due to the nature of restaurants.
  • Intense kitchen dynamics. Kitchens can be a hectic environment to work in, with big personalities and high-pressure conditions this can lead to an energy draining environment.
  • Passion: Hold on to the love of cooking throughout your time and use it as a grounding force to keep coming back to.
  • Education/ Culinary School: I learned to cook from scratch, I started as a Dishwasher and my boss taught me how to cook. If knew I was going to be a chef, I wish I had gone to Culinary School so I would’ve been where I am now years ago. I could have 5 restaurants if I went to Culinary School.

What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?

There are so many highlights on the menu. The Pollo Parmigiana, Il Monello Salad, and Fettucine al Ragu are all delicious options and both Italian classics, and Il Monello favorites.

Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!

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