I have been living alone since the age of 14 and being the only child, I've learnt to take care of myself and that got me into the kitchen to cook meals. At that point, I would have never imagined cooking for anyone but me. I played soccer professionally those days but the love for cooking was bubbling in me and to pursue my education; I moved to Toronto, Canada to a culinary school - George Brown and studied two years of Culinary Arts. After which I completed 6,000 hours as a Chef and was awarded an International Chef certificate.
How has your journey evolved from a chef to a head chef and now a General Manager?
Handling the kitchen is at the back of my hand now; my involvement at the management level is an addition which means I do a bit of everything right from preparing my staff for the busy days to the construction of the restaurant know-how! I've even learnt a lot about creating the restaurant and the technicalities that come with it.
What are the challenges, if any, accepting your new role as a General Manager in addition to justifying being the head chef?
A chef's life is always behind the curtains. Give me the ingredients and people and I could cook up a feast. However, now being the face of Shakespeare and Co. Qatar as the General Manager and coming across different nationalities, catering to their queries and sometimes quibbles even is a new experience with a dash of fun. My cooking classes and demos that I conducted while working for Holland America (Royal Caribbean Cruise) have helped me a lot and that skill is what I put to use at this stage.
Shakespeare and Co. is a very interesting concept and unique at the same time, what do you niche the cuisine as?
We are a franchise from Dubai and is owned by Mr. Sami Azrak in Qatar and Kuwait. It is a Mediterranean cuisine with a hint of international menu highlighting individual needs. We have vast vegetarian options besides the chunky meats on our platter. Our sought after vegetarian dishes are Blue Cheese Salad and Lentil Soup. Shakespeare Classic Chicken being the signature dish for Shakespeare and Co. Right from the sinful Fondant Au Chocolat to a Fresh Fruit Salad - you will never go hungry and that's a promise!
As we are all excited to see Shakespeare and Co. at the Pearl Qatar emerge as your second location, what are your expectations with this recent opening and what is it that customers will be looking forward to?
To be at the Pearl in itself is the difference. Our first location is part of a mall and there is still a sense of the passersby that are overlooking at you. Here, it is more cosy and formal. We have an outdoor seating alongside a private lounge that accommodates 20 persons at a time which would be nice for a small party. Overlooking the great view, guests can now enjoy some new dishes on our menu as well - we have the Charcutier pizza and Chicken Cordon Bleu. The new State of the art menu items are available at both our locations. Kids menu is on our cards to entertain family diners.
Are you planning any more locations?
We are looking forward to our 2 next locations at North Gate Mall and Mall of Qatar in the first quarter of 2015 and more to follow by end of the 2015 calendar year - one of the locations being Al Wakra. An outlet in Kuwait is also in the pipeline.
Coming back to your role as a chef, what is the one ingredient you use a lot? And, what is your signature dish?
I'm Mexican, so without a second thought; it would have to be Chilli - jalapeno, chipotle, habanero, pasilla, guajillo, poblano, etc. We love spicy food and I try to incorporate the same in my dishes, however, not overpowering any other flavours. At Shakespeare and Co., all our recipes come from Dubai and there's not much room for change. I've to mention, though, the sumptuous desserts are entirely my creations and so, they surely pass as my signature dishes here.
What is the toughest thing you have had to do in your job?
In this industry you come into contact with people from different walks of life and each one has their own set of requirements and what they want from their Shakespeare and Co. experience. As the front face of the restaurant, it is my job to always keep the customer happy and satisfied with their food which it means that we work at a very high standard.
Please share with us your proudest accomplishment in your career till date.
I do what I do for my 17 year old son Sebastian, he seems proud of the progression in my career. His satisfaction is my accomplishment and that keeps me going and I strive to better myself.
Do you have a blog or do you contribute to any blogs?
No, I don't blog or contribute to any. Most of my time is dedicated to the restaurant and I like to keep the focus and give my hundred percent. In my free time, I really enjoy going to the movies and exploring different genres.
If you weren't a chef, what do you think you'd be doing?
Without a doubt, I would a professional soccer player.
What is next in the future?
For Shakespeare and Co., a central kitchen for all our locations is what we are working on. In addition, there is a catering department coming soon where we intend on creating the Shakespearean experience in the comforts of your home with customized furniture as the décor alongside the food.
A breakfast concept restaurant ‘Eggspectations' is another project that we have recently signed to be opened at the Pearl in Medina Central. It is a franchise local to Montreal, Canada and it’s the first one in Qatar.
Would you like to share one of your many recipes for our readers?
Yes, that would be a pleasure to share with you one of my favorite signature creations -
Butternut squash soup with maple syrup
For the butternut squash soup:
Onions sliced 1 pc.
Butternut Squash. 2 kg
Maple Syrup to taste
Butter 1 cup
Salt to taste
Thyme - chopped 1 tbsp
Chicken stock 1 cup
Bay leaves 2 pcs.
Creme Fraiche 1 tbsp
Sage Powder pinch
Fresh Sage leaf 1 pc.
Pumpkin Seed Oil 1 tsp
Butter browned 1/4 cup
For the currant compote:
Fresh Currant small pack
Sugar 2 tbsp
BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP:
1) Brown Butter: add butter to large pan, place over medium heat, cook butter until clarifies and turns golden brown. Strain the clarified butter through a fine sieve. Save until needed
2) Butternut Squash: Halve the squash lengthways. Brush the surface with melted butter and place them face down of sheet trays. Roast in the oven at 160c for 1 1⁄2 - 2 hours until soft. Remove the flesh from the skin by pushing them through a wire rack.
3) In a large pot, melt the butter. Sweat the onions and garlic with no color. When soft, add the roasted squash. Continue to sweat for 15 minutes
4) Add the chicken stock. Add some salt and the thyme and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and cook for one hour
5) Blend with a blender small batches
6) And while blending add the brown butter followed by the maple syrup
7) Correct the seasoning at this stage using salt and if necessary maple syrup and/or more brown butter
SAGE CHANTILLY CREAM: To order make quenelle of Crème Fraiche on top of currant compote and sprinkle pinch of sage powder.
CURRANT COMPOTE:. Add the currant with the sugar to a pot and let it cook slowly until is thick.