I’d like to start a movement of Wage before Gratuity. The Front of House and Back of House all work so hard, I believe they should all be taken care of equally. This also includes insurance for everyone.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Chef Alfredo Nogueira, affectionately known by friends and colleagues as “Fredo,” is the Executive Chef of acclaimed bars and restaurants Cure and Cane & Table in New Orleans. A New Orleans native of Cuban descent, he takes a straightforward approach to be authentic to both his heritage and the region, utilizing culinary traditions that are now en vogue but that New Orleans cooks have been using for centuries.
What inspired you to become a chef (or restauranteur)?
I’d always been drawn to cooking through travel and the food cultures I grew up in, though I never knew I’d have the opportunity to become a chef. One day, through a litany of circumstances that started with me working behind a bar, I got the opportunity and really threw myself at it. Now almost 7 years later, I’m still happily chugging away.
What has your journey been like since first stepping foot in a kitchen?
It’s honestly been kind of backwards. I’ve always worked in the service industry because I was an aspiring musician and needed something to pay for my music. For 23 years I’ve been a part of the front and back-of-house of many locations. At one point I was bartending and catered a friend’s wedding of 80 people, which snowballed into more gigs and then a pop-up. Before I knew it I was a chef. Once I was given the opportunity to run a kitchen, I had to go backwards and learn how to be one, and quickly.
Do you have a specialty? If so, what drew you to that type of food?
I really started cooking when I moved to Chicago after Katrina, but my hometown is New Orleans and my family is from Cuba. I naturally was drawn to both styles of cooking and they have become my specialties.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef?
At some point I was asked if I would be interested in being part of an ad campaign for a new store opening in Chicago. I agreed to it, not really knowing about the company or the campaign — I was just told it was something I should do. I showed up at the place, they did a little hair and makeup, put some clothes on me and took some pictures. Three months later, my face was all over the busses and trains of Chicago. I had no idea what Uniqlo was until then.
What is your definition of success?
Being able to retain employees because they believe in you and enjoy working with you. Maintaining a schedule that balances work and home life. Having ideals and philosophies about food and management and not wavering on them. Making a difference in your community any way you can with the resources you have.
What failures have you had along the way? How have they led you to success?
I’m still working towards success. Everyone runs into failures, the trick is learning from them and being aware of what has gotten you this far. I’ve worked at two places that have closed, so paying attention to the business side of the restaurant is now just as important to me as what I put on a plate.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
What advice do you have for aspiring chefs?
Stay organized and on top of things. Never do tomorrow what you can do today. Always try to surround yourself with people that are better than you. Always seek out more information — you never want to stop learning. Discipline sets you free.
What is the key to creating the perfect dish?
When you’re finished with your whole idea, sit down and eat the dish. Is it something you would like to eat, or does it just look good on paper? A chef I worked for always asked, “how does it eat?”.
It is said that food is a common ground that brings people together. As someone who makes food for a living, what does this saying mean to you?
-If I had a style, it would be based on this concept. I don’t do off-the-wall plates, I do my own interpretations of comfort foods that hopefully connect the guests with happy food-memories.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. You’re never going to have a day off again. Get used to it.
2. You will need to put forth a lot of effort to find balance. You’ll need to find out how to wake up earlier, make time for yourself and the people you love, and sometimes you have to realize that you don’t work in a hospital; you work in the service industry and it’s “just eggs”. Don’t let it consume you, it’s supposed to be fun!
3. “Good Mood, Good Food” — You need to find a way to leave your baggage at the door and find your own joy
4. You’re going to make a ton of mistakes. Great. Make sure you learn from them.
5. Buy separate clothes that you only wear in the kitchen. No one wants to be around the smelly ‘chef-guy’ outside of work.
You are a person of great 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? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Wage before Gratuity. Front of House and Back of House all work so hard, I believe they should all be taken care of equally. This also includes insurance for everyone.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to cook for and why?
-I’m just excited to share my cooking with my daughter. She is only 2 months old now, so she hasn’t had anything I’ve made yet.