Profile: Chef Julio
The Young Entrepreneur with a Passion for Great Food, Family & Friends
Welcome back to our Profile series where we share the interesting stories of the WisePass community. We began our series with a profile of the esteemed Chef Dannet of Chill and Air 360 Sky Bar who we spoke with at length on a variety of topics. Our latest Profile highlights another exceptionally talented culinary master — Julio Gomez, head chef and part-owner of Tomatito Saigon.
Although young, Chef Julio has acquired a wide and eclectic range of experiences which have helped shape the man he is today. As you will see in the article that follows, all of his experiences have played an important role in not only his character and but also in his creations in the kitchen. A man of passion and ambition, his culinary skills are only matched by his thirst for knowledge — please enjoy.
Julio Gomez was born and raised on the mean streets of Mexico City. The youngest in a family of 6, he had to struggle and fight his way through life from an early age. Although coming from a loving and close-knit family, the realities of Mexican life can at times be one of hardships and turmoil. Challenges are common and it is essential to be strong and resilient to survive.
Working in the F&B industry from the time he was 13 years old, Julio started his career with a catering company, under the tutelage of talented local chefs. He pealed prawns and vegetables until he worked his way up to more complex tasks. He eventually received a fully funded scholarship to a respected chef school where he learned first-hand the demanding process of becoming a successful chef. Practicing his craft every single day for 5 and a half years, Julio earned his title as chef the hard way.
A notoriously intense environment — the kitchen for a chef in training can be unforgiving to say the least. Both mentors and fellow students are constantly testing one’s will and spirit, and only the strong successfully complete the program. Luckily when it comes down to fight or flight, the instincts passed down through Julio’s family and culture have led him to stay and fight through adversity by any means necessary. His mentors in the school were cruel and harsh however he managed to stay afloat during the very trying and turbulent times and his mind was able to absorb information like a sponge.
‘It’s essential to have a calm mind — everyday in the kitchen is a fight. You can lose a battle, but you must focus on winning the war.’
He eventually completed his strenuous education with a degree in F&B Administration. Julio was gifted with a very strong sense of smell and taste and leveraged these qualities by specializing his studies as a chef as well as a sommelier. Both senses have been influential in his profession and he has consistently managed to create dishes that are simultaneously personal and accessible for a large audience. Having trained under world renowned, Michelin-star chefs, Julio learned from the best and through perseverance has proven he is worth his salt as both a chef and a leader.
At the age of 21, Julio visited his older brother in Shanghai and discovered a foreign world that offered a wealth of opportunities for cultivating dynamic flavours. He never looked back and was met with countless job offers before he took on the role as Head Chef at Tomatito Shanghai where he made a strong impression on Chef Willy Moreno. Like WisePass, Tomatito started small before expanding across other major Asian markets. They opened a second Tomatito in Manila before finally landing in HCMC for their third location where Chef Julio was not only offered the position of Head Chef but also part-owner.
The role as part-owner has allowed Chef Julio to imprint his personality and philosophies in every aspect of the business. A very detail-oriented person, Julio’s imprint can be found in everything from the plates, to the interior design and musical choices, and of course the food, and they all combine to highlight his vibrant nature.
By using fresh local ingredients in a Spanish style, Chef Julio consistently accentuates his own brand of Tapas cuisine. He loves to travel the world and experience new ingredients and flavours from local cultures which he can then use with a Spanish twist. By embracing the local ingredients — Julio uses the freshest produce and herbs possible to flesh out ‘the Spanish skeleton’ of his recipes. Skeleton here being an analogy he uses to describe the foundations of each dish — such as the meats and cheeses which are all imported from Spain.
Choosing to utilize the ‘surprise element’, every bite is infused with a strong unique flavour which reflect the stories from which they were inspired. Stating that every dish has a story linked to relationships and experiences from his life — every creation at Tomatito is bursting with personality. He therefore makes a conscientious effort to prepare each dish with the same tender loving care he would use cooking for his own family. As he states, Tomatito is his home and his customers are his family.
‘Each dish is prepared with the same love and respect we would put towards cooking for our own family’s.’
‘Every dish has a story.’
When he was recruiting his team, he always began an interview with a couple simple questions — Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Why did you choose the kitchen? As they answered he would listen intently, forming an opinion based on the feeling he observed and whether they share the same goals. Equally important is his belief in doubling down on peoples’ strengths and he made a concerted effort to find and leverage each team members talents. The shared ambitions of team members matched with maximizing everyone’s capacities are fundamental to the success of Tomatito.
The restaurant operates very much like a family. As Chef Julio feels — they spend most of their time together so it’s important that there is clear, honest communication and trust. This is highlighted not only in the relationships between team members but also with customers as well. This philosophy along with charisma, has helped him build lasting relationships with guests from around the world. Particularly illustrative is the fact that clients from the past often come to town and even stay at his place.
He works hard to create a friendly open space for which people can come to Tomatito and feel as though they are in the neighborhood hangout. He is very careful to ensure that his food is both high-quality and affordable. It is to be enjoyed by everyone and is ‘not some privilege but a right’. He lives and breathes gratitude and wishes to pass on these feelings through his dishes. During the process of interviewing him he specified very clearly that he wanted to include this message:
‘I want to thank everyone — both service and kitchen teams. Sincerely — it’s one team and one dream. We are family and every member are extremely important.’
It was a pleasure speaking with him and the partnership between WisePass and Tomatito has never been stronger. With shared interests in offering clients much more than they bargained for, both companies are flourishing across Asia. Stop by Tomatito on 171 Calmette Street in District 1 in HCMC and find out for yourself what the hype is all about.