Today, Chef Sam tells us more of his story.
You started working young, did you think you'd end up in the food business?
I didn't know it was gonna be food.... Being Hispanic and Mexican, my parents, that's all they cooked, Mexican food. I didn't know more than that until I started working as a line cook at steak houses.
Did anyone encourage you to become a chef?
I started working in a retirement community and met a gentleman by the name of Mike, he used to work in the White House. He started showing me what food was all about and appreciating the different flavors and the different contrasts of food, not just cooking everything well done, there was more than that....Mike kept pushing me, telling me, "You need to learn more, you need to get more involved."
I got into hotels and I worked at the Sheraton Crescent for a while, got into pastry. That was more of a scientific kind of field, you had to be very precise....I did the basics, cakes, breads, home made ice creams, I could work with chocolates, I specialized in wedding cakes....but the trends started changing, it was more the pulled sugars, the show pieces, and I just didn't have that artistic eye in me.
Back to school
After twelve years in the business going back to school [Scottsdale Culinary] was kinda hard, getting used to the classrooms again. It was difficult because at that time I was married, raising two boys and we were about to have my daughter....Work, school, weekends I worked doubles....Not seeing your family and your boys was difficult for me, I had my boys since they were six months old. Putting that pressure on my daughter's mom was hard. But it was for a good reason, I knew I was doing it for them, and also for my family. I wanted my parents to be proud of what I was doing.
And do your parents like your food?
I try to do some stuff for them that they won't really eat anywhere else. They're a little open, not too much, they're used to well done steaks and stuff like that. With my family at home we do cook differently from when I was a kid growing up....There was always lard in the cabinets, a bunch of grease, that's how we grew up.
Wait...you cook at home?
Yes. To me it's the passion, the passion for what I do. I live it every day, whether I'm at home, reading magazines, I always find myself flipping through cooking channels....I go to the grocery store, I can be there for hours just looking at produce and different meats for me to work with....My girlfriend is a real good cook, she does also help me out a lot, because I do work a lot, but on my days off I love to cook.
Ever though of opening up your own place?
Being independent, I'm sure it's great....But it's so stressful because it's do or die, and there's so much competition out there, restaurants close within the first three years of business....I would hate to have a place and then have the extra stress of people working for me and not being able to pay them....I don't like the fact that I gotta to go home and still carry that load with me.
I never have [enjoyed wines and spirits] because I've seen so much tragedy from it and it's never enticed me at all. My father is a Reverend, been Christian since he was 18 years old, and that's never been around my family....Growing up I just saw the turmoil and I didn't want any part of it.
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But what about pairing wine with food?
It's sorta difficult for me to do wine dinners than most chefs, because they can drink and get the flavor but to me it all tastes the same, if I try to drink it it doesn't taste good so why bother?...I get on the web and find the maker, I look into the vineyard, what kind of grape they're using, how is it aged.
Read the bottle, it's really that simple
I had one wine dinner when a maker form Sonoma came down and he was really impressed. He said, "Wow, you really captured my wine, how did you do that? A lot of chefs have cooked with me and you were the first one to really capture it." I was like "Well because I read your bottle and I got online and found your vineyard, you use a little bit of chocolate and you add cinnamon in it, so I used a mole....It has bitter chocolate, cinnamon, different chilies." I used that as one of my sauces and it really enhanced the flavor of the wine.
Any last words?
Can I ask a favor and mention how grateful I am for all the love and support from my family. Kids Samuel E, Matthew A, and Sierra A, my girlfriend Anna and her son Damon who we raise together, and of course my parents Tony, and Margie Murillo.