ballesteros
ballesteros

“I learned a lot about the discipline, dedication, and desire needed to become a chef. And to never stop learning—you learn something everyday from somebody no matter how good you are.”

Hometown: Monterrey, Mexico
Current city: New York
Course of study: Classic Culinary Arts
Graduation year: 1998
One food/beverage you can’t live without? cheese, Diet Coke
Describe your culinary POV in three words: discipline, desire, dedication
Best meal of all time? Chanterelle
What would your last meal consist of? Casa Mono: foie gras, cod cheeks, rabbit, chorizo with cabbage, crema Catalana
Current job: chef/owner of Crema and La Loteria; consulting chef of Los Feliz
cremarestaurante.com

When you first entered the International Culinary Center, what was your culinary background?
When I was little, I was always in the kitchen, cooking for the family, making pies and simple things. As I got older, I became more interested in cooking, so I took some classes. I did a little catering at home for family and friends—weddings and small events. After I graduated from school, I decided that cooking was my passion, so I decided to come to New York City to attend the International Culinary Center to become a chef and open my own restaurant.

Why did you choose the International Culinary Center?
I debated going to school in London or Paris, but the program the International Culinary Center had was the best for me, and it was in New York City—the center of everything. I came to the school to visit and fell in love with everything about French cooking; it’s the mother of all the cuisines in the world. I loved the program and the atmosphere.

What was the most challenging part of your education?
The most challenging part was the final exam. It was very challenging, but at the same time very exciting. In general, every day is a challenge when you’re learning something new.

What were your plans when you graduated?
I was already working at Mexican Mama a month before I graduated, and I was the chef there for seven-and-a-half years. I did a very simple menu, but every week I would have seven specials. Then I opened Crema, which is my own restaurant.

How do you feel the International Culinary Center prepared you for owning your own restaurant?
The chefs-instructors prepare you for what is a real restaurant. You get more of that feeling when you are in the third and fourth levels, when you actually cook for a restaurant. You can never get the full experience until you do it, but it’s definitely a plus.

What advice would you give to students right now who want to pursue their career as a chef?
My advice is to learn as much as you can. It’s very good to go from one restaurant to another and to learn a little bit from every place, and then after that you can put together everything you’ve learned.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
I would love to write a cookbook, and I would love to have my own TV show on the Food Network. One of my dreams was to be on Iron Chef, and I was a year ago. It was an amazing experience, and I want to do it again!

What do you think is the most valuable lesson you learned at the International Culinary Center?
I learned a lot about the discipline, dedication, and desire needed to become a chef. And to never stop learning—you learn something every day from somebody, no matter how good you are.

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