Being a Female Chef Is Difficult In This Industry: Often, people will automatically dismiss female chefs and opt to hire a male chef. While it’s very frustrating, it’s important to ‘kill them with kindness’ and present your best dishes to prove yourself as an experienced and talented chef.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Chef Jerzy Gonzalez. She has been whipping up delectable cuisine creations for nearly 15-years. Having trained at the world-renowned culinary institution, Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, she’s catered for a host of top-notch companies. Often sought to cook for well-known names and socialites, including many families of NFL star players, Gonzalez then chose to dedicate her time to creating personal cuisine five years ago. In a short amount of time, she has become one of the region’s most acclaimed personal chefs.
Chef Jerzy’s elegant and gourmet meals are favorites among families, party goers and business associates. Her light fare and main courses are highly sought-after and her desserts — nationally known as she is a pastry art expert. One of her first endeavors as a culinary professional was creating wedding cakes. And due to high demand and popularity, her dessert division expanded swiftly. She has worked with some of the most world-renowned chefs including White House Chef Guy Mitchell.
Chef Jerzy is also a familiar face among the television circuit. She is often a featured chef with The Food Network and maintains a regular presence at their many festivals. She is also the go-to for many media outlets including the plethora of morning news programs in Philadelphia and New York City.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?
Mygrandmother inspired me to become a chef because her food is unforgettable. She never made the same thing twice and always made food that brought you back to those childhood memories.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
I cook a lot of Spanish food as well as Kosher-Spanish food. The love of food is what drew me to be a chef. My grandmother was a great cook and I wanted to be just like her. She never stuck with a recipe; she always added her own twist to all the foods she cooked. She made delicious meals out of nothing that always caught my interest, so when I’d get home I’d try to mimic her recipes.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
The funniest thing that ever happened to me as a chef was wearing my chef pants inside-out at work the whole day and not realizing it. I only realized it because my staff kept whispering to each other every time I would walk by. The lesson I learned was DONT GET DRESSED IN THE DARK.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
The hardest part of this journey was trying to work with people’s budgets and working with people who feel entitled. I overcame this obstacle by not giving them the option to renew the contract. Because at that point I was losing money trying to work with everyone and that just wasn’t going to work for me anymore. For some reason, people think that a personal chef should cheap for the reason that they know the cost of food being prepared. I have to explain to them that they are really paying for the labor. you have to think of it as a car, the parts are reasonable but the labor kills you.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
The key is knowing their taste, likes and dislikes and mastering a dish that includes all of their favorites with a small twist. I try to introduce them to spices that they’ve never had before and combine them with foods that they eat all the time.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
Pizza is the ultimate meal for me. You can never go wrong with pizza!
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
Inspiration is a key ingredient to making me a great chef, and it’s all built around my family and friends. I turn to them to taste new dishes and give me insight on what to make. I’m also inspired by memories of the delicious smells my family shares around the dinner table. .
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
I am finishing 2 cook books as well as getting things ready for my new spice line. Many of the recipes in my cookbook are inspired by my grandmother’s cooking. One cookbook will focus on the basic recipes I make for my clients and tips on how to efficiently meal prep. The other book will feature “Jew-Rican” recipes: meals that I make for my family that are Kosher with a Latina spin. My spice line is a twist on Adobo seasoning, something that you can add to any dish. I’ll be making two blends, one which will have hemp. I’m also creating some salsa blends (some with hemp) including hot sauce, Verde sauce and sofrito sauce.
What advice would you give to other chefs or restauranteurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
Hire people to help, don’t be greedy and most importantly, don’t be cheap.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Most people won’t appreciate how much goes into their meals: other than the cooking, a lot goes into meal prep, like brainstorming to make the perfect recipe, which seasonal produce to use
2. Being a Female Chef is Difficult in This Industry: Often, people will automatically dismiss female chefs and opt to hire a male chef. While it’s very frustrating, it’s important to ‘kill them with kindness’ and present your best dishes to prove yourself as an experienced and talented chef.
3. Holidays are Pretty Much Non-Existent: I’ve worked during Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter many times. It’s a sacrifice you have to make to keep working in this industry.
4. Food Cost is a Real Thing, Especially When Using Your Own Money: clients might not pay until their event is over, so the food expense falls on you. Try looking for grocery store deals/savings on meat and produce.
5. You Must Have Patience: This industry is all about pleasing other people, and sometimes you’ll get frustrated with your clients or customers. Just take a deep breath and remain calm and kind.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
I’m a personal chef so I cook in people’s homes, but my most popular, must-have dish is Spanish rice and beans with pollo guisado.
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?
I would love to start a motorcycle ride to help kids with cancer. This has been a dream of mine for a very long time. It was inspired by my little cousin Nelson who was diagnosed with cancer as a toddler. Nelson loved motorcycles and he looked up to me since I’m a female motorcycle rider. As we all know, cancer treatment is not cheap and can be very detrimental to families financially, and I always wished there was something I could do to help. So I thought of a bike ride in honor of Nelson since he loved bikes and most of my family members ride also. One day I’d love to organize a motor ride to raise money to help Nelson’s family and others who struggle to pay for medical expenses that insurance doesn’t cover.