Not only are Chopped contestants talented in the kitchen, they also have unique personal histories. Chef Kelvin Fernandez (@chefkelvin) is no exception. Read on to learn about how an adolescent crush led him to become the chef he is today.
FP: How did you get your start with cooking? When did you decide you wanted to be a chef? What do you enjoy most about cooking?
KF: I started cooking twelve years ago when I was in high school. My high school sweetheart was into cooking and I was the typical 15-year-old boy as sports and girls were my interests. Deciding that I wanted to make my girlfriend at the time happy, I decided to pick up on her hobby and interests and decided to join the culinary program at Long Island City High School. My teacher at the time Terry Matsis saw potential in me and pushed me to focus on the class, something I wasn’t too serious with in the beginning.
I decided I wanted to be a Chef when I won the CCAP (Careers Through Culinary Arts Program) Competition. I was awarded a $20,000 matching scholarship to the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). It showed me what I could accomplish at such a young age if I put my mind to it. What I love most about cooking is being able to make someone smile with something you made/created. So much joy in that!
FP: We wonder if she knows what she started! 😉
Name some chefs that have inspired you.
KF: Marcus Samuelson was one of my first real mentors when I started working with him back in Aquavit. He was a young chef who was setting his name in stone in the culinary world. I looked up to him and saw what hard work and dedication could accomplish.
Alfred Portale was an amazing chef/mentor in my career teaching me at a young age and developing me as a young chef. His food is amazing and consistent which is key in this business.
Richard Grausman. Former Chef/ Cook book author and mentor. Mr Grausman is the kindest man I have ever met. I see him as a second father. He is the Founder of CCAP and has given me the tools to succeed with advice, job opportunities and networking.
FP: Tell us about your experience on Chopped from casting to filming. What was it like to compete with the other chefs? Would you do it again?
KF: Chopped was an amazing experience! It was one of the hardest things I’ve done culinary-wise but it was an amazing experience. Going on the casting was a lot of fun. At this point I have tried out for a few other shows in my career so I had the casting down pat. My competition that night was pretty fierce. We have become friends after the show, which is great. Chef Jason Marcus is at one of my favorite restaurants and is pretty much the only reason I go to Brooklyn to dine. As well, Chef Jennifer Cole and I are great twitter buddies and exchange messages often. It’s nice to have a great circle of chefs in your contact book. I felt I did great on the show with my allergies and all and not being able to taste my food and making it to the final round. That alone should have given me a redemption challenge so yes I would do it again in a heartbeat.
FP: When you are home, what are some of your favorite meals to cook. If you go out to eat, name some of your favorite places in NYC or other cities you’ve visited.
KF: I cook occasionally for friends at home. My all time favorite meal to make is Chicken Cordon Bleu with creamy mashed potatoes and a cheese sauce, so comforting and delicious with a nice glass of Riesling 🙂 I dine out a lot! I would say 15-20 times a month I call it my research, lol. One of my favorite places to go is to Traif in Brooklyn where chef Jason Marcus is doing some amazing things over there. I am an ice cream whore and I love desserts and I’m lucky to have Chef Thiago Silva as a great friend. He is the pastry chef of Catch and he makes amazing cakes and mind-blowing desserts. He has made my favorite dessert to this day, the banana brulee split with the cookie dough ice cream is to die for.
FP: We’d join you for a meal at any of those places! What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name 🙂
KF: As I mentioned earlier, ice cream!!!! I can’t go with out it. I used to skip dinner just so I can eat ice cream. Also pizza is really comforting.
FP: Ice cream and pizza are definitely on our list of foodie pleasures!
If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing? Any non-cooking hobbies?
KF: If I hadn’t become a chef, I would be in the photography industry taking photos. I love pictures, cameras and capturing moments! I also take tons of photos on my iPhone and Instagram daily! Love to tease my friends, family and fans. You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter at ChefKelvin 🙂
FP: We definitely follow you on both Instagram and Twitter so we can see some of you delicious meals! Thank you so much for your time. We wish you continued success!
Chef Kelvin Fernandez is the Executive Chef at the Strand NYC. Go check it out!