photo courtesy Juan Vazquez
Juan Vazquez likes to stay put.
While plenty of chefs moved from one kitchen to the next early in their careers— and even later in their careers—Vazquez has made a habit of spending nearly a decade at each stop of his career. Now the executive chef at Tuscany Suites & Casino, Vazquez has guided new menus at the property’s restaurants, like Pub 365.
Vazquez draws on a lifelong affinity for food, dating back to watching his mother and grandmother cooking in the kitchen, along with a family pedigree in the restaurant industry.
How’d you get into cooking?
I started when I was17 years old at Landry’s Seafood House and started from the bottom, dishwasher. After that, the chef there gave me an opportunity, starting on the line cooking. But everything started with my grandma and my mom. I used to like standing in the kitchen and see them cooking Mexican food.
My mom said, “You know what? You’ll like the kitchen.” She was not lying.
Your mom and grandma were a big influence; what about other family members?
My grandpa, on my mother’s side, was a sous chef. He was in the Mexican navy, and used to cook a lot for the sailors. So I think I was going to inherently like the kitchen. And one of my cousins was an executive chef in Mexico City.
Was Landry’s because it was a career option or you needed money?
I was in school and was working part time in the afternoon after I was done with school. The reason I went to work was definitely the passion so I could work in the kitchen, and a little bit for the money. I definitely didn’t want to be a dishwasher all my life, so I was watching the cooks. I liked cooking, so I jumped to prepping and learning as much as I could. There were times I worked for free, just so I could stay a little bit and watch the cooks.
So you just wanted to cook?
That was my main thing. I just start watching the guys cooking and knew I liked this, I wanted something like this. I learned everything on my own, and learned everything by working in the kitchen.
Do you draw on your family lineage for inspiration, or where does it come from?
I’ve worked at a couple restaurants, American food and the last job I had, worked a little bit with French cuisine, and I like French cuisine. I make things a little bit American, Mexican, French. Anything in the kitchen, I like it.
Where has your career taken you?
I worked at Landry’s for eight years. I don’t move a lot to different places because I like to stay in one place a long time. I used to work in a couple restaurants, a Lone Star, the steakhouse, just a small franchise for part time, to learn more. Then I went to the Wynn and I was a sous chef there for six or seven years, then after that, one of the sous chefs got a job there at Caesars and took me there. Then I stayed there for seven years. I don’t like moving around a lot.
Would you recommend that?
I would say yes, I think stay in one place and do the best to work hard. A boss sees that I’m working hard and stays with me.
You believe it’s hard to find loyal workers then?
Very hard, and it’s very hard to find somebody that will stay and work hard. Especially at the big casinos, the cooks stay there, you get the benefits, but the chefs seem to like to move.
You’ve worked on the Strip, but off now; do you like it?
This place where I work right now, it’s more quiet, more family style. There are more locals and it’s different than big casinos. This place, it’s good. I like working here and have been here for two years. There is one owner and he’s nice. He knows I work hard and seems to be happy with my work. Being in the corporate life is so different and it can be hard to stay in those environments because there’s a lot of people you’re reporting to, so here it’s more relaxing. But it’s still a lot of work too.
What do you want in your career?
I’m 38 years old and one of the things I want, in my mind, is to show my kids that nothing is impossible if you do something you love. I want to be one of the executive chefs where people know my name by my work.