Rejection is vital to growth. I wish someone had told me to never fear failure. Before I owned a restaurant, I was a very timid chef. I cared way too much about what I thought people would say about my food, without even giving them a taste to get their actual feedback. Rejection is vital to the growth of an individual, embrace it and use it to grow in your craft, and as a person.
At only 23, chef Julian Rodarte and his father, Beto Rodarte founded Beto & Son — a chef-inspired, Next Generation Mexican restaurant located in Dallas, Texas. In partnership with his father Beto, Julian brings a fresh vibe to old-school Mexican family cooking. It was in his dad’s restaurant kitchens that Julian first fell in love with cooking — and his love and inspiration for his craft has only grown stronger. Julian was a semifinalist nominee for Forbes 30 Under 30 and was listed as the youngest of Zagat’s 30 Under 30 Most Innovated Chefs in the U.S. Both chef Julian and his restaurant, Beto & Son, have won additional numerous awards, including: Zagat Top 15 Hottest New Restaurants; Guest of A Guest 10 of the Hottest Chefs Under 30 in America and Dallas Voice Best Chef In Dallas and Best Dining Experience In Dallas. Beto & Son has also been featured on the Travel Channel as one of the Best Mexican Bars in America. Before launching Beto & Son, Julian worked as a R&D chef for one of the largest international restaurant chains in the world, where he developed new food menu concepts. Julian has also worked for The Ritz-Carlton Hotels, in addition to his experience with acclaimed chef Dean Fearing, at his restaurant Fearing’s.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Julian! Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a chef (or restauranteur)?
I grew up glued to my father’s hip in his kitchens. Partially because I wanted the first bite, but also because I was fascinated with restaurants. They were so complex. Chefs were like conductors at a symphony. The front door or maître D’ were the strings, the server the woodwinds, the bartenders the brass and finally, the kitchen the percussion. Everyone has their role and it is up to the chef or conductor to ensure everyone is in the same key, playing in perfect harmony, at the same tempo as every other facet of the restaurant. You could say the chef works miracles on a nightly basis and this is what had me hooked on becoming a chef.
Do you have a specialty?
Being Hispanic, I grew up on what I thought was the best Mexican food ever! My father was from Durango and learned to love cooking from his grandmother. I grew up in my father’s Mexican restaurants learning from him and his other Hispanic staff members. Tacos, tortas and salsas did not just warm my palate, they touched my soul. I love exploring other cuisines and as of right now, Asian is my favorite. However, Mexican food is what originally inspired me and will always taste like home.
What drew you to that type of food?
What drew me to Mexican food was that it is so fresh. My father learned to cook on his grandparent’s farm. There was no running water or electricity. It was the farm to table lifestyle before it was a trend in the United States. Salsas were crushed by hand using a volcanic mortar and pestle, tortillas were made by grinding corn and making masa, moles took days, weeks and sometimes even months to reduce and perfect. It was the love woven into each ingredient that my grandmother cared for in her garden and the careful preparations that made me fall in love with this cuisine and culture.
Can you share with us a story about your grit and resilience? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I remember when I was working on my first restaurant concept, I was 23 years old and I knew social media was going to play a huge role in the success of our business. I told my dad I was going to create an Instagram for our restaurant, and he looked at me like I was crazy. It wasn’t until our first week of being open that my father saw the value and power in social media. I knew we had to create dishes that were not only flavorful, the dishes needed to make guests want to take a picture of their food. My father did not see the immediate benefit of this at the time, however, he picked up on social media very quickly. I remember in our first week, I received a notification saying we had been tagged in a picture. I opened the notification and immediately recognized that the guest who posted the picture was still in the restaurant with the plate of food in front of him. I ran and grabbed my dad to show him what had just happened, and how many hundreds of people had already liked the picture. At that moment, his eyes got big and he said, “I need an Instagram!” The rest is history.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The defining moment in my life came at 16. My father came home one day and announced to my mom and I that the restaurants we had invested everything into were no longer our restaurants. His partners had bought out his share of the business. At the time, I was enjoying my high school career. I played football and basketball and was having a blast being a kid. However, in that moment, I knew everything had changed. Being the oldest of three kids and the only son, I knew it was my responsibility to alleviate my family’s financial burden and at the very least, start providing for myself. I quit sports so I could work full-time every day after school to help pay the bills. I did not want us to lose what we had left, and I wanted my little sisters to continue living life as they knew it. This was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was painful, heartbreaking and earth shattering. However, it taught me work ethic and gave me a glimpse of what it took to be man who provides for his family. I always thought that I would inherit my father’s restaurants, but in a swift second, we had nothing, and it was up to me to help my family rebuild the future I once dreamed of. This tragedy would be what prepared us for our future.
So how did grit lead to your eventual success? How did grit turn things around?
I learned hard work through my father’s example. He had been providing for himself since he was 12 years old. That is when he moved to the U.S. from Mexico. He put himself through school working at restaurants and eventually was given the opportunity, through his hard work, to own restaurants. I always admired and looked up to him because of his work ethic. He would wake up every day at 4:00AM to get ready for work. He would start prepping in the kitchen to get the food ready for the guests. He would work long hours every day and when he came home, he would still cook for us every night. I thought those dinners were fit for a king. He never seemed tired and he never missed a meal! My strength and work ethic came from watching him prove that you can have whatever you want in life, no matter what situation you are born into. You just have to be willing to outwork everyone else around you. My father would say, “Be the hardest working and humblest man in the room.” I have him to thank for my work ethic.
I’m proud that I worked my way up in the restaurant business. At 14, I started out as a dishwasher in my dad’s restaurants. I later moved through the ranks as a busser, host, server, bartender and line cook. At 22, I landed my first corporate chef job for one of the biggest restaurant chains in the world, and I later moved into food science. By 23, my father and I were approached to open a Mexican restaurant in Dallas, Texas. I knew this was our opportunity to take back what we had lost almost 10 years ago. I was so excited! I begged my dad to take the opportunity so that we could redeem what he had set out to do. He knew how hard it was going to be, but he decided to give it one more shot. We opened Beto & Son at Trinity Groves, right outside of downtown Dallas in November 2016. The restaurant far exceeded what we ever thought possible. Because of the failure we had experienced in our past, we gave it everything we had. I created the bar menu, which was something I had never done before, but we hit a home run with our tableside liquid nitrogen margarita! It went viral on social media and got the attention of Travel Channel, BuzzFeed, and every local news station. My father and I were awarded Top 10 Best Mexican Restaurants in Dallas by USA Today. I was named one of the youngest 30 Under 30 Most Innovative Chefs in the United States by Zagat in 2017. Our experience hitting rock bottom propelled us to push ourselves, not just with our work ethic, but also with our creativity. We are doing what we love together. I am so thankful for the heartbreaks and the losses because they made the victories so much sweeter.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am currently working on opening another restaurant, and writing my first cookbook. As a young chef, I have attracted many other young and driven individuals to join my team. I am excited to expand our restaurant group so that I can equip and enable these young individuals to take on more responsibilities and hopefully, one day give them the opportunity to run restaurants of their own. From a young age, I was blessed to have people believe in me and equip me with the financial support to open my restaurant. I want to be able to do the same for other individuals that have the drive and dreams that I had. In order to do that, I must create the blueprint. It has been an exciting journey and there will be plenty more wins and losses along the way, but I am so excited for all the things that are going to grow me into the man I ultimately need to become.
In your experience, what is the key to creating the perfect dish?
When my father and I sit down to create a dish, we always ask ourselves two questions. The first is: how can we elevate simple food in a way people have never seen before? The second is: how can we take dishes and techniques used in fine dining and bring them to the masses? For example, Mexican restaurants generally do not use liquid nitrogen, but are famous for frozen margaritas. With that insight, we made our frozen margaritas tableside using liquid nitrogen to elevate the cocktail and overall experience. On the flip side, it is taking simple dishes and elevating those. Fideo is a pasta dish my father used to eat on his grandparent’s farm in Durango, Mexico. We have developed Fideo Bowls at Beto & Son using ingredients like Atlantic salmon, shrimp and chili rellenos. Rather than making a simple broth-based pasta dish, we sauté fresh, in-season vegetables and accompany those with in-house meats. Finally, we pair the dishes with various scratch-made sauces to create meals people can discover and eventually crave.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Self-care is important. Before I became a chef, I wish someone would have told me how much endurance it takes to be in the kitchen. I wish I knew how important it would be to take care of myself — everything from getting enough sleep to taking care of my body and taking a moment for myself. As chefs, we stand in kitchens for hours in front of hot grills, ovens, stove tops, and salamanders. At the end of the day, we are often depleted and dehydrated. At one point, I was constantly sluggish and had a hard time thinking and acting, in the most intense situations. I remember drinking countless liters of water and never feeling like it was enough. I recently discovered that rest and hydration is a game changer for me. I did some research and learned that not all water is the same. I partnered with Essentia Water to bring me back to the level at which I need to be in the kitchen. I have started to take a moment for myself and have felt more alive, and able to put that extra touch on all my plates.
- Money management is essential. I wish someone had told me how to properly manage restaurant financials. Our first year of the restaurant was very successful, and I have hired individuals that have taught me how to manage my restaurant even better. Before hiring experts, I now realize I left a lot of money on the table. I have been blessed that Beto & Son has always been profitable. Since this is my first restaurant, I have had to learn the hard way that there is always more money to be made — I just need to keep my finger on the pulse of the restaurant.
- Marketing drives business. I wish someone had told me that marketing is a defining factor in the success of a restaurant, especially when no one knows your name. You can have the best food and service in the most beautiful restaurant in the world, but if no one knows who you are and where to find you, it doesn’t matter because no one will come. I always knew marketing was important, but I never knew how important it was until I owned a restaurant of my own.
- Rejection is vital to growth. I wish someone had told me to never fear failure. Before I owned a restaurant, I was a very timid chef. I cared way too much about what I thought people would say about my food, without even giving them a taste to get their actual feedback. Rejection is vital to the growth of an individual, embrace it and use it to grow in your craft, and as a person.
- Your health comes first. I wish someone had told me the importance of staying healthy, especially through the long hours and countless months with no days off. When we first opened Beto & Son, I was working all day, every day for countless months and that took a huge toll on my health. I felt like I was constantly fighting some sort of sickness, as well as trying to run a new restaurant that was constantly fighting for my attention. It wasn’t until we had been open for two years that I finally decided I had to make a change. I started cutting out foods that were slowing me down. I added lots of fruits and vegetables to my diet. And I really learned the importance of hydration. Since making this change a year ago, I have felt better than ever.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If I could start a movement, it would be to raise awareness around some of the biggest silent killers in our industry: physical and mental health. We have a terrible epidemic in the restaurant industry of losing the people we work with just too soon. Just recently, a chef died of a heart attack at 44 years old. I would say that the least talked about and gravest epidemic in our industry is suicide. As chefs, we spend so much time tending to the needs of our guests and everyone around us, that we forget the importance of our mental and physical health. We need to make this change for our industry. I personally have talked to many of my friends and staff members that tell me they are contemplating taking their lives because they have fallen into such a dark mental place. This doesn’t have to happen, and we can change this. We must come together and start having the hard conversations that could save someone’s life.