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Carlos Castera is not afraid of change. At age 44, after working as a union representative in DC for 13 years, he quit his job, enrolled in a local culinary school and knocked on every restaurant door to get work at night. In his “spare” time, he researched Spanish cuisine and the work of his idol, José Andrés.

“The day I found out, I was getting ready for school and the phone rang. It was ICC calling to say I won. I got so excited I hung up without getting a single bit of information, not even a phone number. Good thing for caller ID.” Carlos left his DC school on a Thursday and was in NYC to study by the following Monday.

Spanish Culinary Arts, created by Dean José Andrés in collaboration with Colman Andrews, covers everything from knife skills to learning the art of the asador, the subtleties of paella, the authentic ways to prepare meat and fish and bake bread, and the cultural and regional influences that infuse every dish. After eight weeks of intense training in NYC, students travel to Madrid to experience “José’s Spain” firsthand, exploring the best cheese and seafood producers, vineyards, food markets, tapas bars and restaurants in the region.

When asked what he thought of the program, Carlos replied, “Amazing.” Every day at ICC he was prepared, eager and early, thrilled to be studying in NYC, but the most rewarding part was Madrid. “When I went to Spain and saw these beautiful products and the history, I realized it’s not just a piece of ham or meat. People don’t see how much love and care goes into it. It was incredible. The whole thing was like a puzzle and Spain was the final piece.”

Life has moved quickly for Carlos. “Last year I was taking a paella class, this year I’m teaching one … I’m moving so fast because of ICC. Nothing is easy, but if you put your heart in it, and it is something you love, you can do it.” As he hoped, Carlos is now a sous chef for José Andrés. At Jaleo in Bethesda, Maryland, he works closely with the executive chef and handles everyday operations and events. Last week he made two paellas that each served 100 people. One of the best perks of the job is that he gets to see his idol from time to time. “He’s busy, but he always asks, ‘Are you learning? Are you happy?’ Yes! I get to do what I love with the best.”

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