Everyone loves to hear the stories of a hardened chef -- the behind-the-scenes escapades, long hours, and crazy people.
But it's rare to hear the story of the recently graduated chef, the one working in the trenches 12 hours a day, six days a week. You hear the stories after the fact, but not during the grueling start. Unless you're Anthony Bourdain, it's difficult to snag a book deal these days.
Thankfully, we have a key into the sordid world.
Meet Christine Guzman, a Johnson & Wales University graduate and rising young chef treading Miami's culinary scene. She has done stints at the Breakers in West Palm Beach and Eos under Michael Psilakis. She currently works at the recently opened Tudor House and frequently freelances at Nemesis Urban Bistro.
An active member of the local Twitter community, she serves up tweets that are fast, risqué, and on key. Hang out with her for a night and she comes in tow with the best of her culinary crew -- those who cook together stay together. Here's a no-holds-barred peek inside the mind of an up-and-coming local chef and what it takes to make it in this city.
New Times: When did you first know you wanted to become a chef?
Christine Guzman: In regards to culinary careers, I consider myself a late bloomer. I initially pursued a business degree at FIU, but after incredible boredom and a nudge from my grandmother, I decided to make the jump. I naturally gravitated toward the kitchen all of my life, and it just clicked. I took a risk, and it has paid off in the end.
What do you consider your specialty?
I have a deep love for Asian food and culture. On my days off, you can find me at the Oriental markets. I'm also extremely popular for making a mean omelet for breakfast.
What do you eat at home?
It's so sad, but to be honest I rarely eat at home. I enjoy cooking at work, but my home is for relaxing, and I like to do just that. I love to cook for family and friends on holidays and for special occasions. I prefer trying new places and exploring what other chefs are doing. I'm part of the philosophy that you should know where your food comes from, including the important ones that make your food. I recently started my own blog, Lady of the Knife: Memoirs of a Chef, that is dedicated to the restaurant scene and my own food experiences in Miami.
Is there any celebrity chef you admire?
I really do admire chefs that have the balls to go against the grain. Anyone who can look at the norm of the industry and say, "I can make a difference, I can make it better and I can teach customers what to look for in good food." Outside of Miami, I especially love Ferran Adrià of the former El Bulli, Grant Achatz of Alinea and Next, and Rene Redzepi of NOMA. Locally, I admire Michael Schwartz because of his drive to keep sustainable and local food popular and, well, sustainable. I also admire Micah Edelstein for her thought-provoking food and the willingness to take a stand for what she believes in. She is a true perfectionist and always in control of her 30-seat hot-spot bistro, from the stylish décor to every dish that comes out of her kitchen.
What kitchen appliance or tool can you not live without?
Definitely a sharp knife and a spoon. A knife is self-explanatory, and the spoon is for tasting whatever you are making. I was trained very early on to taste everything. Not only is it telling you the flavors and seasoning of the dish, it also lets you experience the food from beginning to end, helping you to understand the transformation food undergoes during the cooking process. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't mind a circulator, a Cryovac machine, and a blender around either!
What ingredients can you not live without?
Salt and pepper! To me, salt and pepper are the most important ingredients in any kitchen, even before the most sought-after produce and products. The correct seasoning of a dish can take a product from bland to unforgettable.
What's your death meal?
I've thought about this question long and hard. If I were to go to a restaurant, it would have to be the former El Bulli; I'd have everything on the menu. If I were to have a home-cooked meal, it would definitely be a perfectly roasted whole chicken with a succulent gravy made from the drippings, accompanied by mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables -- whatever is in season. Simple, easy, and delicious.
Where did you go to school?
I went to culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in North Miami. Although I'm open to saying that some of my best training has come from learning from whatever chef I have cooked under and, of course, experimenting.
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What's your favorite food memory?
I have a couple. First is my 22nd birthday dinner at L'Escalier at the Breakers in Palm Beach. The tasting menu blew my mind. After that day, I knew I needed to step it up, cooking-wise. A couple of years ago, I went to Spain, where I experienced two memories that I will never forget. Walking into La Boqueria Market will change any foodie's life forever -- it's like the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory for chefs. I had the opportunity to walk into the kitchen of El Celler de Can Roca, of chef Juan Roca. Being deemed one of the best restaurants in the world, it helped me understand how kitchens should operate.
Be on the lookout for Part 2, where Guzman delves deep into Miami's culinary scene and gives her opinion on who's up-and-coming in the local food world.