The Heart of Cooking in the Heart of Texas: Chef Ashley Vazquez Spotlight
Chef Ashley Vazquez is the best example of our favorite recipe for success: hard work and an eagerness to learn. It’s these two things, on top of her unquestionable talent, that have put her on the track to a very successful career as a chef in Texas. With roots in the culinary arts that go back to her childhood, she’s established a solid foundation to build her career upon. And she won’t stop there. With some promising job possibilities in the near future and a recent induction into the Texas Chefs Association, we anticipate remarkable achievements from this bright graduate of the culinary arts fundamental program.
Ashley took some time out of her busy life to talk to us about why she chose online, the lessons that helped her the most, her recent induction into the Texas Chefs Association and her plans for the near future.
Escoffier Online: When did your love for the culinary arts begin?
Ashley Vazquez: My love for the culinary art started at a very young age. I can remember always wanting to put different flavors and textures together, even though a lot of people thought what I was doing was a bit strange. It helped me understand my own pallet and preferences, but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I decided that I wanted to make a career out of my passion. So I made up my mind that I was going to do something about it.
EO: Was there a certain person or were there certain people who nurtured your love for cooking?
AV: My husband has been my biggest support system. He pushed me to work harder on my craft and really embrace my love for cooking. He has actually been my driving force. Whenever I doubted myself he would always encourage me. He actually is the reason my love for cooking came about. I used to want to be a food blogger, but one day while eating at a nice restaurant he looked at me and said, “You know I think you could make this stuff if you really set your mind to it.” So that next week, I tried to recreate the dish and, coincidentally, it came out better than the restaurants.
EO: Can you talk a little about your career so far?
AV: As of right now I am the chef at this Italian restaurant I work at. It was the only place I applied to work at because I had always loved it. When I showed them my chef’s portfolio they asked me a series of questions, I answered, and they hired me on the spot. I moved up relatively quick. By 4 months I was already working the kitchen alone with my own staff under me. It was a really exciting moment for me. I am in talks right now with a really nice fine dining restaurant. They want to try to make a position so I can join their team. It’s a really amazing opportunity, and if it all pans out, I will be very excited to be a part of such an amazing kitchen.
EO: Why did you decide to pursue an education at this stage in your career?
AV: The main reason is I really wanted to see my chef status on paper. I wanted to hold that paper in my hand and say I did it! In my heart I knew I was a chef, but I wanted it to be legitimate. The secondary reason is I feel like there is always so much more to learn, and my mind craves knowledge. I never want to stop learning, and I was given some really important information that I still go back and look at whenever I have a question.
EO: Why did you choose online?
AV: I chose the online culinary course because of its convenience. I’m a working wife and mother of 3. So I needed the convenience of the online culinary program.
EO: What were your favorite aspects of the program?
AV: There are a few. First would be the one-on-one help from the chef mentors. My chef mentor was Chef Cesar Herrera. He was truly amazing, and always helped me whenever I had a question. We still keep in contact, and I will call him up if I have a question or need some advice. The second is the depth that the program goes into. Like I said previously, I love learning, and there was so much information to obtain!
EO: What are some areas that you feel the program helped you as a chef?
AV: It definitely helped me in the preparation area. Before I would be running around looking for this or that while I was already cooking. It was a little overwhelming at times, but then I learned about the mise en place. Even though it was something so elementary, it made such a difference in my everyday cooking. I took that with me to the workplace as well, and it has been such an asset. Also, it helped me learn it is ok to ask questions. It’s always been hard for me to ask questions, but the program teaches you that by asking questions you are growing.
EO: You were recently inducted into the Texas Chefs Association. Can you talk a little about how that came to be?
AV: Yes, I recently became a member of the Texas Chefs Association. It’s actually a funny story how I got invited to be a part of such a prestigious group. A relative of mine kept telling me about one of their friends they had known for years who is a chef. My uncle got me in contact with his friend and it turned out he was the director of one of the chapters for the TCA. We spoke for a while, and he was interested in my career, I asked him to check out my Instagram account chef__ashley to check out some of my work. I take pictures of most of the cuisine I create. He went to look and was so impressed by what he saw that he contacted the director of my local chapter to tell him about me. So the director of my local chapter looked at my Instagram, and contacted me and asked if I would be interested in joining. I was a little bit shocked, but extremely excited. I immediately responded yes!
EO: What does that induction mean to you?
AV: It means the world to me! I get to be a part of a group of like-minded people. People who are as passionate and dedicated to the culinary world as I am. I feel truly honored and blessed. It’s a culmination of everything I have worked hard for and aspire to be. I get to rub shoulders with some really amazing chefs, and I want to take in all of their advice and truly learn from them.
EO: What was your favorite cooking assignment?
AV: My favorite assignments would have to be the chicken chassure and the lamb shanks. I had never cut an entire chicken before so that was a great learning experience, and the lamb was fun because who doesn’t love braised lamb?!
EO: What’s your favorite dish to cook?
AV: My favorite dish to cook is actually a very simple dish, but takes time and technique to master. It is a medium rare ribeye steak seasoned to perfection with a compound butter, creamy buttery pomme puree, and thyme honey glazed carrots.
EO: How about to eat?
AV: There are two things I love to eat. The first is steak. There is nothing better than a perfectly seasoned steak cooked to a beautiful medium rare with a garlic compound butter! The second one is actually kind of funny. People always look at me and laugh when I tell them this is one of my favorite foods. The almighty sandwich! I love sandwiches. It has everything your palate needs. I pile them high with ham, turkey, bacon, cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato, pickles, brown mustard, and my secret ingredient chips for an added crunch. You get soft, creamy, crunchy, sweet, salty, sour. It is the perfect food!
EO: What’s the one ingredient you have to have in your kitchen at all times?
AV: Well, I would say I desperately need two ingredients. Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. With those two seasonings you can practically make any dish. Salt is the spice of life, and pepper is its perfect mate. I couldn’t live my life without those ingredients.
EO: What advice do you have for aspiring chefs?
AV: My advice is simple. Never stop learning. A true chef can never learn enough. Read books, travel to other countries, taste foods that scare you, listen to veteran chefs, just never stop learning. Food evolves and so should your cuisine.