Alex Alejandro of El Parador Café Explains the Parallels Between Using Ramps and Having a Good Sex Life
El Parador Café is one of those old-school New York City restaurants, having been around since the days when spots for Mexican fine dining were virtually nil. Now, they're a dime a dozen, but El Parador is still going strong, half a century later. We called up chef and co-owner Alex Alejandro to learn more about how he keeps it caliente in the kitchen.
Photo courtesy Alex Alejandro Alex Alejandro won't serve you molten chocolate cake.
You own the oldest Mexican restaurant in the city. Tell me about the restaurant's origins.
The restaurant has been around since 1959 and was owned by Carlos Jacott. He retired in 1990 and asked my father if he wanted to buy it. So he bought the place and I joined him in the operation. We're Spanish but it was a good deal. I decided if I wanted to continue in the business I had to learn a little bit more about Mexican food and the trade so I went to the French Culinary Institute and learned the contemporary style of cooking.
But the French Culinary Institute teaches classic French food -- how did that experience teach you Mexican cuisine?
What the French Culinary Institute taught me was technique, but I also kept asking the guys in the kitchen, "What can we do? How can we make it better?" and learned to create recipes and dishes to the point where they pleased me. You know, a recipe is just a map and you can create it to your tastes.
Was it hard working with your parents?
Working with family is never easy. My father was not the easiest person to work with, but I learned a lot from him. He taught me to respect the business and to please others and to keep watch. Learning how to keep a close eye on the operation.
You worked every station -- which was the hardest?
The dealing with staff. We're all human and have issues, scheduling issues, mood changes, everything. Trying to understand people -- you have to treat them how you'd want them to treat you. That was and still is the hardest part. You don't want people to end up stealing from you. You want them taking care of the place when you aren't there. You need to be a psychologist and drill sergeant.
And the easiest?
Washing pots. That was a no-brainer.