For this year’s Reader Key Ingredient Cook-Off, we asked some of Chicago’s top chefs to create a dish to honor a person who influenced their cooking. The exercise stirred many kitchen memories.
Chef: Rodolfo Cuadros
Dish: Shrimp ceviche with watermelon and gochujang
Mentor: Douglas Rodriguez, chef and owner of Alma de Cuba in Philadelphia (previously of Patria, Chicama, and Pipa in New York City
“I started working for [Rodriguez] when I was very young, around 17, at a restaurant in New York called Chicama. He was the first chef I worked for that cooked Latin food. It was the first time I could connect to what I was doing on a personal level, that I would recognize ingredients that were being used from my upbringing.
I was already dead set on what I was going to do. It just so happened that I fell in love with it when I discovered Latin American cooking through him. On and off, I worked for him for about ten years. He became a father figure, not just a chef. Every time you cooked something and had him try it, he’d say, ‘Did you taste it? Do you think it’s great?’ If you weren’t sure, he’d say, ‘Work on it and let me taste it when you’re ready.’ It taught me to not just be OK—make sure that you’re proud of something before you move on to the next step.” v