ORGULLO LATINOReading time: 4 minutes
Latino chefs are injecting innovation and creativity into the US culinary scene, helping to shape its future for the better.
The culinary world is competitive. And nowhere is this competition more fierce than the US, where many of the world’s best restaurants can be found.
Working in a US restaurant can be a cut-throat profession in which only the best survive. Yet in this landscape, a number of Latinos are not only thriving but putting their names in the culinary history books thanks to the flair, style, and creative ideas they have brought to the table.
Indeed, over the last few years, countless Latino chefs have emerged as leading names in the industry, introducing dishes that have transformed out-of-home dining, from street food carts to Michelin starred restaurants.
Many have also drawn on their experiences and heritage from Latin America to create unique dishes with genuine stories behind them. On that note, here are some of our favorite Latino chefs in the US today.
Adriana Robleto (Nicaraguan)
Even as a child, Adriana was something of a culinary prodigy.
Drawn to cooking from the age of seven, she says she was inspired by her abuela’s recipes which harnessed the unique flavors of Nicaraguan cuisine, including bitter orange, garlic, and mint, among others.
Recognizing her eagerness to become a chef, her parents sent her to summer school in the US, at Rhode Island University’s Culinary Arts School. Her experience there only confirmed what she already knew from the time she was little.
Having seen the vibrant culinary scene developing in the US and the opportunities it presented to Latinos, she got a job at The Brixton, a fine foods pub in one of California’s most exclusive, expensive, and iconic coastal cities. She began as a hostess, but quickly marked herself out as a talented chef.
With a platform to showcase her skills, she began introducing the local community to authentic Nicaraguan dishes, which included the most cherished flavors from her childhood.
Today, alongside her job at The Brixton, she runs Pinto, a mail-order food service which delivers delicious prepared Nicaraguan meals to homes in Texas, New York, Miami, and Ohio.
Javier Álvarez (Nicaraguan)
While Adriana Robleto is trailblazing in California, another Nicaraguan – Javier Álvarez – is doing the same over in New York.
At just 31 years old, the chef, who was born in the mountainous region of Estelí, grabbed headlines when he became the youngest to receive recognition from Gastro Marca Iberoamérica.
The prestigious magazine declared Javier as one of the most influential chefs in the country. And it is well deserved.
Inspired, like so many others, by his abuela’s cooking, his use of traditional Nicaraguan food with a modern twist has become a hallmark of New York’s vibrant, yet fiercely competitive dining industry.
He currently oversees the kitchen at Graffiti Earth – chef Jehangir Meth’s restaurant – and is also in charge of the Radicem project. The project aims to combine elements of US and Nicaraguan gastronomy via food "pop-ups" around the world.
By doing so, he helps promote small producers, artisans, and emerging artists from native country.
Alfonso Verdis (Mexican)
Born in Copanatoyac, a Nahua municipality in La Montaña, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, Alfonso Verdis is a young man with indigenous roots.
During his childhood, he split his time between going to school, working at his father's carpentry shop, and planting corn, beans, cilantro, and squash that he later sold on the sidewalks of Tlapa.
When he was just 15 years old, Alfonso came to the US. He arrived with nothing and slowly built his career from the bottom up.
Among the many jobs he had, one opened a culinary door for him: at the Viceroy restaurant, Alfonso met chef Gregory Baumel, who became his mentor and his chief supporter.
Over time, Alfonso worked his way up and after impressing across five different restaurants, he received the opportunity to take command of his own kitchen.
Today, Alfonso is the executive chef at Sanfords, an award-winning restaurant in New York, where he manages 60 employees and delights the palates of diners with his creations daily.
For the past two decades, Alfonso has worked hard to earn a place in the prestigious restaurant scene and was even chosen to cook for pop superstar Michael Jackson and former US president George W. Bush.
Karl Alonzo hasn’t always been a chef. But the passion and desire has always burned within her heart.
She originally trained as a teacher in San Lorenzo, Suchitepéquez, the southwestern region of Guatemala.
However, Karla decided to switch professions and move to the US to find not only better employment opportunities, but also the freedom to contribute as a member of the LGBT+ community.
Like many other migrants, Karla started at the bottom washing dishes but through hard work and a thirst for knowledge, she overcame the language barrier and became a certified kitchen manager and small-business owner.
Today, she lives in Washington, D.C. where she owns and operates Nim Ali Guatemalan Shukos & Antojitos. Her restaurant is a typical Guatemalan urban food establishment, through which she seeks recognition for the unique flavors of her country – predominantly through her famous shucos.
What are shucos, I hear you ask? Well you’re missing out. Shucos are a kind of hot dog with chorizo, steak, sausage, cabbage, avocado, chimichurri, jalapeños, and other toppings. And few do them better than Karla Alonzo.
Over the years, Latinos have not only injected a big dose of creativity and innovation into the US culinary scene, but also inspired future generations of chefs to take their skills beyond borders.
And while this list may contain some of the most inspirational Latino chefs today, it has barely scratched the surface of all the amazing talents we have in the kitchen!