Wendy Méndez

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"I am inspired by a date, a feeling, the colour of some foods, music, a smell that reminds me of something."

Fotografía de INTERVIEWS WITH OUR CHEFS
What made you want to become a chef?
I've been very curious about cooking since I was very young. In my family, I was always the one getting involved in dinners and festivities. Although I graduated in a different area, to get rid of the stress, I was the one who organised the events and prepared the dinners at the very same companies where I was working.

What is your first memory of a dish that made you dream?
I made lots as a child; I don't know if it was the custard I made for many years or my well-known plantain pie. My siblings and cousins loved it, and so does my son now. 
 
Who has influenced you in your cooking style or philosophy?
More than who, I think it's the 'what and 'where' and that would be a healthy lifestyle, looking after one's health, particularly cardiovascular, working with natural, fresh, real elements from the place - which takes me to the where. That's this beautiful island where I'm from and where I live. I aim to work with 'highbrow' Dominican cuisine, respecting the recipes of the old timers. These are highly influential circumstances.
 
What inspires you? or Where does your inspiration come from?
I'm inspired by a date, a feeling, the colour of some foods, music, a smell that reminds me of something. I am greatly inspired by good cooking, the freshness or seasonality of produce. The utensils also inspire me a lot; they don't just make the job easier, they also ensure an end product exactly as hoped for.
 
What is your favourite culinary method or technique?
Sautéing. It's simple, attractive and doesn't change the nutritional components of the produce, aside from being practical and quick.

What is your favourite ingredient?
Enthusiasm.
 
What is your favourite cooking utensil?
The frying pan.
 
What material do you prefer for your pans and saucepans?
Stainless steel, with non-stick coatings.

What would you like to change about the cooking schools?
That they give students the chance to get more involved in hospitality, not just cooking. Give them the chance to find out more about ethnic cuisine.
 
Your advice for young chefs.
Practice, practice, practice, a vocation for service and humility. Humility in any profession gives us the chance to grow. We're in one that is constantly evolving and, also, is one with the quickest pay-off: this pay-off can be seen when the diner tries the first mouthful. That is priceless!
 
What do you look for when you hire someone for your restaurant?
Talent, but above all a capacity to learn, a vocation for service and honesty.
 
How do you motivate your team?
Teaching them to be better and applauding when they get things right or innovate.
 
What would you like to change in the catering industry?
In the case of my country, which depends greatly on tourism, that these youngsters have more formal training, that they are trained because they are young but with a great vocation and few opportunities.
And that they allow women into the kitchens more; I've have seen and experienced a lot of discrimination by male authority figures.
 
What do you do when you have difficult guests?
Let them express themselves first. When people feel they are being listened to, they let down their guard and you've won 50% of the battle. Next thing is breathing out and starting from 0 with them, even if it takes 10 goes. These are the people who put obstacles in your way and if you win them over, they will be your most loyal followers.
 
What is your favourite place to relax?
The beach.

What pushes you to keep on going?
Never feeling I've achieved anything.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
There are many - I think that's got to be the hardest question for any chef!
The most difficult might be my mother's vanilla cake: I've always been totally obsessed with it, never getting it to turn out the same and I've been making it for 10 years. Undoubtedly the most complicated and even more so now she's not here.