Taking the time to prepare food with love

By KATHY LARSON

Staff Reporter

Chef Anthony Alejandro grew up in Texas and became interested in a chef’s career while working as a waiter. He is now Chef de Cuisine of Storytellers Restaurant at Cliff Castle Casino in Camp Verde.

Alejandro worked as a runway model for Dillard’s during high school and the first year of college. He was then offered a job as a waiter in a small Mexican food restaurant while working toward a business degree in school. The money was good so he stayed in the business, moving on to the Westin Hotel’s restaurant.

It was there that the Westin’s chef, Mark Spelman, noticed that Alejandro was always hanging out in the kitchen, asking questions about food and techniques. Spelman eventually asked him if he’d like to work as a chef and took him under his wing. He left college and began his career in food.

Alejandro moved to Arizona and received his degree from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. He completed his 420-hour externiship at the Paradise Valley Country Club, working again with his mentor, Chef Mark Spelman (who had moved to Arizona and has just recently won a bronze medal at the Culinary Olympics in Erfurt, Germany). Alejandro stayed there as banquet chef for seven years.

In 1998, Alejandro moved to the Verde Valley where he helped open Casa Rincon in Sedona. Then in late 1999, he was hired to start Storytellers Restaurant.

His job includes writing the menus, creating recipes, supervising the staff of the restaurant and of course, cooking. All of the recipes and daily specials are created by him "from the storm in his head," according to his cooks.

He is an award-winning chef — the last two years he has won a bronze medal in the Arizona State Culinary Chef’s Competition in Phoenix. He also was honored as Chef of the Month by Restaurateur magazine last March.

Alejandro and his wife, Barbie, have a 2-year-old son, Auguste, who is named after the famous chef Escoffier. Alejandro says, "He is known as the king of chefs and the chef of kings. He started the brigade system of chefs, sous chefs, prep cooks and assistants. Before that, cooks ran around the kitchen aimlessly."

Influences/Inspiration

His grandmother was an excellent cook. Until three years ago, she used a wood stove that was originally in a train where his grandfather worked. As a child, he would watch her bake, roast and cook on the old stove. As he got older, she taught him to cook, garden and how to process meat.

He now realizes what an influence she has been to him and the family — an uncle owns a restaurant and two cousins are chefs with culinary school degrees.

Favorite Cooking Style

Mexican and Japanese, using fresh fish. On his days off, he likes to cook and experiment at home. Barbie is also a good cook who makes great Mexican food.

Cooking Triumph

Teaching his staff the high standards and knowledge that his mentor taught him. He believes the restaurant industry is judged on perfection so he picks only the best meats and produce to cook with. His philosophy is "take the time to prepare food with love, using quality ingredients. You can prepare quick meals with fresh ingredients. It’s much better than a TV dinner. You’re worth the best — this is what’s going to fuel you for your health."

Worst Cooking Nightmare

Having a banquet scheduled and ingredients that you need don’t arrive on time. This requires frantic trips to the grocery stores and calls to other restaurants. Equipment failures can wreak havoc on a restaurant as well. "You have to just fix what you can fix," says Alejandro.

Where He Finds Recipes

Alejandro creates his own recipes but has some favorite cookbooks for inspiration, including: Lessons In Excellence by Charlie Trotter and any by Paul Prudhomme, whom he thinks is the best at using the senses for cooking. He also likes Andre Sotlner, who owned Lu Tece French Restaurant in New York and is an instructor at the French Culinary Institute.

Beyond Cooking

He hits a heavy (80-pound) bag for martial arts training and as a stress reliever. He reads books on history and cooking — how they relate to each other. He spends as much time as he can with his family and likes to make homemade pasta with his son. Alejandro believes Auguste will have a great appreciation for food if he gets to enjoy the process of preparing, playing, cooking and eating.

I’ve Always Wanted To

Go overseas where people really care about their food and experience the old ways. Alejandro says, "The restaurants may have only eight customers but they create wonderful things. These aren’t the chefs that are on television or in the fast-food world."

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