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On tonight’s Chef Wanted, CEO Eric Van Den Haute and manager Miguel Baeza were looking for an executive chef to oversee the three locations of Cafe Sevilla in Southern California. They needed a chef who had an expert grasp of Spanish cuisine, who would convey the 30-year legacy of Cafe Sevilla, which specializes in tapas. Anne Burrell brought in four candidates for the job opportunity, but only one was offered the position. FN Dish has the exclusive interview with the winning chef.
In the end, Chef Errol LeBlanc from Pasadena, Calif., was offered the position of executive chef. Eric and Miguel were both impressed by Chef Errol’s passion for Spanish cuisine, which was skillfully presented in his dishes for the first two challenges. Even though dinner service wasn’t as smooth as it could have been, with dishes coming back, Chef Errol proved himself by staying calm under pressure, and he was able to lead the staff even when things appeared to be bleak. FN Dish caught up with Chef Errol to chat about his time on the show and his new job as executive chef of Cafe Sevilla.
Both Anne and Eric thought you were overambitious with your dinner menu, and many dishes were returned. Do you think you should have scaled back the dishes? Would you have done anything differently?
In hindsight, I probably should have scaled back a bit on my menu. It wasn’t really necessary for me to go all out on the dinner service, especially since I wasn’t really very familiar with the kitchen or the crew.
You seemed very calm and organized under pressure, and you were great with the staff. How were you able to keep a positive mentality even when you were in the weeds?
Keeping calm when it’s hectic in the kitchen is something that I have been working on my entire career. When I work in a kitchen, especially with a new team, my mental state and attitude is ultimately going to set the tone for the staff and, more importantly, the flow of dinner service. My team was working just as hard as I was, trying their best to help me succeed. I couldn’t have asked more of them than they were already giving me with their effort. I just wanted to keep everyone motivated and moving forward.
How was it working with Anne?
Working with Chef Burrell was an amazing experience. She genuinely cared about what was going on in the kitchen. She was a wealth of knowledge and had great advice to give that I think really helped to define the direction I was going to take. She was also a lot of fun to talk to when things weren’t going insanely crazy; she’s down-to-earth and easy to approach.
What has the experience of doing the show taught you?
Doing this show has taught me more than I could have ever expected:
1. Making TV is a lot of fun; it’s an experience unlike any other. It is, however, one of the hardest things I have ever done and the mental toll it takes is astonishing. (However, I would do it all over again given the opportunity.)
2. Never judge a book by its cover. I met some great people who I might not have found myself ever getting to know otherwise, both on a professional and personal level. Chef Jesse Moreno and I speak quite often now — I made a new friend.
3. If you want it bad enough and you work hard enough, you can achieve any goal you set your mind to. I have always wanted to be on Food Network, and I have always wanted to win, at least once. I achieved both in one day.
4. And most importantly, if you are going to be cooking in front of Chef Burrell, make sure you can in fact cook, and stay organized — or she will make it clear what you are doing wrong. (Oh, and keep your cutting board from being a mess.)
What was one of the first things you did at your new job?
I took the time to introduce myself to each and every person that I came across throughout the first few weeks. I spent much of the first month just observing to help better understand the operational aspects of the restaurants.
How is it running all three locations of the restaurant?
It’s a challenge. The restaurants are separated by quite a bit of distance, so I don’t get to spend as much time in each of the locations as I would like to. Coordinating changes between three locations and implementing them perfectly and simultaneously takes a lot of work and planning.
Have you made any changes to the menu?
I have made a few changes, but they are not necessarily adding or removing items or creating new dishes. My focus has been on techniques and ingredients being used for each menu item. Some simple changes have reinvented a dish, without rewriting the menu. Check out our new Lobster Paella Tapa — it’s pretty fantastic.
What advice would you give to other chefs competing on Chef Wanted?
The advice I would give other chefs competing on the show would be similar to the things I learned from doing the show:
1. Don’t judge a book by its cover. The chef next to you might look unassuming and not threatening, and they will turn around and chop you down.
2. Be calm and collected, map out your moves and think about five different ways to accomplish the same goal just in case the first four don’t pan out.
3. Keep going and don’t shut down. Keep fighting to succeed until there is no time left to keep doing so.
4. Get something on the plate. No food, no win, cut and dry.
5. Take Chef Burrell’s advice — she’s been there and done that. If she’s telling you something, or suggesting a course of action, it’s probably in your best interest. Listen and learn, or crash and burn.
6. Have fun. It’s a lot easier when you are enjoying your time in the kitchen. Your demeanor and attitude comes out in your food and people will notice.
Watch Chef Wanted on Thursdays at 10pm/9c and keep coming back to FN Dish for updates with the chefs.