“I know. That’s why I’m here.” And he
said. “OK. Great. Come on in. Can
you start now?”
I was led to the kitchen and given
a chef coat and apron. For my first
day and a half I peeled baby carrots.
I had to do them perfectly, very
delicately, with just the right pressure.
I was excited because I knew they
were showing me how to do this the
right way. I cleaned quail and squab
for days at a time, mostly doing prep.
I helped with pastry, too.
I have nothing but good memories of
the guy [Charlie Trotter]. He always
treated me with respect. I think he
saw something in my eyes. I have
worked in a lot of restaurants where
the chefs aren’t in the kitchen. He
was in the kitchen all day, every
night. He was tasting and pushing
us hard, but he never yelled at me.
As long as you try to do everything
perfectly, he won’t be on your back.
you seem like a strong person.
ju: I was only 20 years old. I
don’t know if Charlie was trying
to intimidate me, but I wasn’t
intimidated. I’m a driven person.
After all, I wanted to be a pilot
from elementary school through
high school. Once I realized that
I couldn’t, I was depressed for
a couple of weeks. But my dad
encouraged me to research other
careers. Finally, I realized that I
always enjoyed cooking at home
with my mother and grandmother.
So I moved to Los Angeles right
after I graduated high school. The
day I left Oaxaca, I knew what
I wanted to do. And I even loved
it before I started.
was LA a shock?
ju: No. When I graduated from
middle school with high grades,
my father said, “What would you
like as a gift?” I told him I wanted
to travel to see the U.S. I was 14.
When I moved to LA at 17, my
brother worked as a busboy in a
Being an immigrant, I didn’t have
loving parents in America to help me.
I didn’t have credit to get a loan to go
to school. The only way for me was
to work my way up from dishwasher
The more adversity I face, the
stronger I get. I have been in the U.S.
since 1993, and I have never missed
a day of work. I had bronchitis once
in Chicago, and still I didn’t miss
work. I called work from the doctor’s
office and told them, “I’ll be an hour
late.” The doctor said, “You’re crazy.”
But I was working at Spiaggia.
how did you get like that?
ju: My people are tough, driven
and disciplined. Instead of going
in a corner and crying when I hit a
barrier, I feel excited. I’m young. My
possibilities are endless. When I
worked at the barbecue restaurant
in LA, some of the other guys were
from Oaxaca. They didn’t know me
and weren’t supportive of “newbies.”
They joked that they were great
cooks and that I’d be a dishwasher
forever, never a chef. I laughed and
said, “That’s fine.” Those are the kind
of things that made me stronger.
Ethel Hammer is a writer, lecturer and
cartoonist based in Chicago.
on the menu
Here’s a look at the Italian specialties
served at Ristorante Bartolotta in
Shaved prosciutto and
salumi with gnocco fritto,
a fried-dough bread
From Imola: Ouvo Raviolo,
a big raviolo with a soft-yoked
egg inside, truffles and butter
(a dish that was served at
Ristorante San Domenico)
From Lombardi: Buckwheat
pasta with sage and walnuts
From Umbria: Black truffle
sauce over hand-cut beef
From Tuscany: Oven-roasted
chicken with garlic and
From Vento: Beef carpaccio
From Campagna: Rigatoni
tossed with eggplant, San
Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella
fior di latte and fresh basil
From Sicily: Grilled bone-in
pork chop braciola with
sauteed mushrooms, roasted
potatoes and Marsala
From Sardinia: Handmade
spaghetti with sauteed
spiny lobster in a spicy
above left: Spicy pork ragu
above right: An assortment
of house-made breads with
wild berry jam.