Name: Joel Daniel “J.D.” Valdez
Hometown: Houston, TX
Current city: Houston, TX
Course of study: Classic Cuisine
Year of graduation: 2014
Favorite food: Anything that excites my taste buds
Current Job/ Position: Owner/Operator at Houston Streatfood and Chef Instructor at Sur La Table
Personal motivational motto: “Think twice before you ever burn down bridges because despite what we don’t like this sh** is a business.”
- What is your Story? (What did you do before culinary school? Why did you come to CIL? What have you been doing since you graduated?)
Before culinary school I honestly had no direction. I hopped from job to job never keeping one for more than a few months because I never took any interest in anything I was doing. I grew up with the Houston underground scene and anybody from here knows that if you associated with the common man on these streets you didn’t necessarily make the best life choices.
I always passed by LeNotre as I drove up and down 45 and that plain looking building that just said “CULINARY INSTITUTE” always caught my attention for whatever reason. I passed by it for years before deciding one day to exit Crosstimbers and make that u-turn. I read the next open house date on the sign out front and the rest is pretty much history. I don’t really have a compelling argument as to why I chose this school over the rest but from stories I hear from folks who attended others, I’m convinced I made a great decision.
Since graduation I’ve worked at a few restaurants only to find that the lack of interest I once had before still remains. But!…I realize it’s only because the thought of bosses makes me nauseous. I chunked deuce at the couple jobs I was working and went for broke upon discovering a neglected trailer chassis. I decided to invest in building a mobile food trailer from the ground up with my own two hands. Commonly misconceived as a food truck, this will be a trailer that can be towed and dropped on location. After doing my homework, I submitted plans to the City of Houston Health Dept. which were approved and have since been slowly constructing it while I teach classes part-time at Sur La Table; an outlet to express and share my passion that doesn’t even feel like work.
- What was your inspiration that led you to wanting to become a Chef?
I grew up infatuated with the arts, any and all types. Maybe the wave of cooking shows which began flooding the TV at the time subconsciously led me to pursue a profession where I could still practice expressing creativity but appreciate them in more ways than one. This is arguably the only form that you can experience with all 5 senses, and then some.
The look of a well-composed dish, the smell of a perfectly made stock, the feel of the various textures, the taste of exotic and foreign flavors and the sound of a hot pan cooking your work to perfection. Not to mention the way you make others feel when you share your creations with them. It’s truly a beautiful thing.
- What are you doing right now? Describe a normal day of work.
I don’t work anymore. My alarm clock is seldom used these days and time in general is becoming an irrelevant theory. I sleep and wake when my body tells me to and proceed with my day by writing menus, sampling local restaurants, contemplating business ventures and teaching classes to the public at Sur La Table when scheduled – all while contributing to the progression of my trailer in one way or another little bits at a time.
In a way you can say it’s “the life” but it’s certainly not for everyone and most definitely comes with a cost. A willingness to risk losing everything you have is absolutely necessary and is a terrifying thought for me even to this day. I have no retirement plan, no scheduled direct deposit, no health insurance, no PTO…none of that. If I had kids it might be a different story but this is what it is right now; Imagine jumping out of a plane with no parachute but being confident you can build something on the way down to save you…it’s something like that.
- How would you describe the impact of your course at CIL on your daily missions?
Structure. I was a mess before when it came to my cooking. Every time I pick up a knife or turn on a burner I get little flashbacks to when I was in labs and remember how important it is to do things right with proper form. Just as well, anytime I mess up I can still hear Chef Jean yelling “saboteur!”
- Do you have other projects in mind?
Of course! Life’s too short to stick with one thing. Once Houston Streatfood has got its feet wet I hope for it to flourish and allow for expansion within a few years. Maybe move up to an actual truck, perhaps a brick and mortar but then I would also like to start a few other concepts. In the mean time I wish to go back to school for architecture and botany which will allow me the ability to design my own establishments with full gardens where I can grow a good portion of my ingredients.
Currently, I’m coordinating a dinner series as a type of fundraiser for my trailer. I scout local talent who work in restaurants and whatnot and help them put together a night of good food where they can showcase their skill and creativity while giving the public a fresh take on the fare at hand. I call it “Menu de mi Mente” (My Mind’s Menu) since this is the stuff that goes on in their head when they’re not restricted by set menus or pretentious executive chefs.
- Would you like to share an anecdote or a recipe with us?
This sauce can be found at taco stands and true Mexican restaurants all around town. Of course, everybody has their variation and adds a little of this and that to make it their own, but here’s a base recipe for Salsa Jalapeno, or “jalapeno sauce”.
1 ¼ pounds (about a dozen, depending on size) jalapenos, stemmed and rinsed
1 ¼ pounds vegetable oil
¼ onion, peeled
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Pinch of sugar (optional)
1- Throw the jalapenos and oil in a large sauce pan and fry them until they are shriveled and almost black.
2- Put the jalapenos in a blender and carefully pour ALL of the hot oil over them. Trust me.
3- Toss in the rest of the ingredients and blend until you have a creamy consistency.
4- Enjoy on anything. Literally. Meats, vegetables, fruits, your significant other…whatever.
*If your blender doesn’t work too well just pass the sauce through a strainer afterwards to get rid of excess pulp etc.
- Any recommendation for improvement? What would you say to a student thinking about a career in Culinary Arts?
Don’t come into this field for money or fame. The television has a way of glamourizing this stuff but there’s much more to it than meets the eye. Do your homework and really think about it, it’s not for the weak.
- Do you do anything besides cooking? Hobbies?
I’ve been skateboarding for more than half my life and try to use that as a way to fight off extra pounds I put on from eating so much. Unfortunately, I cook and eat more than I skate now so it’s not a fair battle anymore and it’s starting to look like I’m having twins. Aside from that I love reading about chefs around the world or learning new stuff about ingredients not so familiar to me etc.
- Would you agree to come at school one day and meet our current students, around a conference or a cooking class? Or maybe receive some small groups of students at your restaurant?
Absolutely. Any time.