Anastacio Rodriquez, executive chef at Loma Linda University Medical Center-Murrieta, has worked as a chef for the past 13 years. Rodriquez started cooking in his grandmother’s kitchen as a young boy, but dreamed of learning culinary techniques that reached beyond her countertops. Known fondly as Chef Chito, Rodriquez shares how he found himself cooking for President Barack Obama, and what led to his position at Loma Linda University Medical-Center Murrieta.
The Murrieta branch of Loma Linda University Health in Riverside County in southern California is a relatively new addition to the Loma Linda University family. The 106-bed community hospital opened in April of 2011, and as of February 2012, is the “first and only provider of interventional cardiology services in the Murrieta-Temecula area,” according to Loma Linda University Health.
Can you describe your journey to becoming a chef? How did it all begin?
My grandma was a big influence…[and] I think I’ve always been someone who likes to create things/build stuff. I have a passion for art. In cooking I was able to be creative. I used to watch Emeril [when I was a young boy] and it was so much fun. When I was 12 I almost burned down my grandma’s kitchen!
Growing up eating a lot of Mexican food, I knew I loved food and wanted to learn about other kinds of cuisines.
How did you get the opportunity to cook for the Obamas? What were the steps that got you there?
Always having a passion! Going to culinary school, I felt out where I wanted to go with my career. In culinary, you can end up working for Chipotle or for the White House; it’s so wide and so broad. I’ve always thought: “Make a plan and figure a way to get there.” So, I planned out my career and the ways to get there.
And how did that lead you to cooking for the President of the United States?
I jumped all over the place working for different kitchens, both fine dinning and otherwise. I was working at a casino and for Suzanne Goin, [of Lucque Group/Catering.] She’s the one who gets these kinds of high profile events. She said to me, “We have this special person coming; can you come work?”
We were always cooking for “special people” — movie stars and stuff. We all began to wonder who this special person was — there was all this security clearance! And then we found out it was the President of the United States.
How does it work, cooking for the President? Are there a lot of safety precautions, other than running you through extensive security and background checks?
Oh yeah! Everything is raw. We prepare at the event. We have to get there super early because they close the streets down around the event. Everything is made on site at these remote kitchens: steaks and everything.
You mentioned that you had cooked for other celebrities before; how did it feel cooking for the leader of the free world?
It’s pretty amazing. I’ve cooked for a lot of people, but to cook for the President of the United States. . . I got to take a picture!
How many times have you cooked for the Obamas now?
We cooked for them a lot in 2011-2012 — maybe eight or nine times in total.
What kind of events are they usually for?
Fundraisers, women’s conferences, men’s conferences. . . It can be for groups ranging from 10 to 200 people.
And now you work for Loma Linda University Medical Center-Murrieta. What is your official job title there?
I am the Executive Chef at Murrieta [Loma Linda University Medical Center- Murrieta. “LLUMC-Murrieta.”]
How did you become connected to Loma Linda University Health?
I was working at a different hospital and I was at a conference when I met the director of food operations at the main [Loma Linda University Health] campus, and we hit it off. We exchanged cards and kept in touch.
At my hospital we had this dinner for doctors’ day, and I sent him pictures of the event. He emailed me back saying there might be a position and I should apply.
I did my interview and a written chef test. I haven’t done a written test like that since culinary school! It’s good; it weeds people out who say they know stuff who actually don’t. The interviewers had a mystery box of ingredients we [the interviewees] had to use to make a several course meal — I decided to make a couple of extra courses.
That’s hilarious! It must have worked since you got the job. How long have you been working for LLUMC-Murrieta now?
Three years in September.
How is it different working in a hospital than it was working in some of the other kitchens you have worked for in the past?
It is completely different since it is a hospital. But at LLUMC-Murrieta the hospital food is not like hospital food; it’s really good! We have beef, chicken, fish, and turkey meal selections for patients. For non-patients [staff, visitors, and students], it’s vegetarian.
I personally do eat meat, and I figure that we have to make a balanced meal that someone like me who eats meats would like, and that someone who is vegetarian would also like.
Patient meals are regulated for their diets. For our cafeteria, we have a hot entrée; we have a soup or salad option. We have seasonal salads made-to-order. We have a grill that we run specials out of. . . it’s different all the time.
What is one place you are trying to improve in the hospital kitchen?
Working with the team in the kitchen and uniting everybody. [Chef Chito has 25 direct reports at LLUMC-Murrieta.] Most of our chefs have been in culinary school and worked in cool places. They appreciate what we do here — we collaborate together: “Let them [the customers] see how can we make your regular lasagna better.” We are always trying to make the food better.
What do you most enjoy about your job at LLUMC-Murrieta?
That’s easy. The thing that I like the most about Loma Linda University Health is their values — honestly! Being a father of three boys and a husband to a great wife this is important.
Our readers will love that.
Honestly! Loma Linda University Health understands that as a chef it’s tough; it’s non-stop. At some places it’s 17 hours, 6-7 days week. Here, I can have my family time. It’s nice. I come in to work 9-10 hours max, then I go home. That’s it! It’s very consistent and very supportive. I have worked in many kitchens, hotels, casinos, and in fine dining — this is the best place I’ve worked.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6801