Introducing… Andres Davila, Sous Chef
To describe Andres as an avid and passionate learner is an understatement. After speaking to him about why he loves the culinary world and what inspired him to move to paradise, we are convinced that he is not just in the foodie business to cook, but because he absolutely loves the creative process that goes along with it.
We were honoured to have Andres participate in last year’s Cooking With Truffles competition, organized by the Culture and Tourism Council of the Government of the Region of Castilla y Leon in Soria, Spain. The first contest of its kind, Andres represented the Cayman Islands and Ecuador. He was one of 15 chefs that were chosen to compete in this high-level challenge – amongst the participants were Michelin-starred chefs, as well as awarded chefs from famous hotels and restaurants in the US, Canada, Singapore, China, South Africa, Italy and New Zealand. Here we talk to Andres about his recent involvement at this world-class competition, his love for the Cayman lifestyle and why he enjoys working at our Beach House.
With so much culinary talent here in Cayman, the Cooking With Truffles competition was an ideal opportunity to showcase Andres’ talent on an international level, as well as being a great learning experience. He elaborates: “The truffle is a very fancy product and it is one of the most expensive products that you can find. It costs $1,200 per kilo! What the organizers were trying to do was to promote where it comes from in Spain. For instance, they arranged truffle hunting before so they had the best truffles from the winter harvest and we were using this in the competition. It was a 90-minute contest to execute recipes that we had submitted to judges before. It was interesting because my main idea was to mix the truffles with some ingredients that I could find in Cayman and Ecuador (where Andres is from) so I can represent these places – I used fish, lobster and corn. The level of the contest was really high. It was a really high-pressure environment in those 90 minutes! But people were very nice. It was a great opportunity for chefs to measure how our abilities against others from around the world.”
At the end, the Italian team won the competition but what Andres took from the whole experience was so valuable. He said: “When you are using products from the local area, for instance I was using mushrooms and truffles from Castilla y Leon in Spain, you have to be proud of the local ingredients that you have – that is the most important thing. I loved the experiences I had meeting high-level chefs and seeing the different techniques that are being used and feeling inspired by what they are doing. All the chefs and judges I met were really nice, kind and down-to-earth people. It wasn’t the image of the Superstar chef that you have. I met some of the best chefs in the world, with Michelin-stars under their belt and they turned out to be really cool, friendly and humble people. This is how you notice that the whole culinary world has changed. No longer are the days when rude chefs act arrogantly with their staff; now you can see that it is more of a community and people trying to help each other.”
This spirit of community was one of the main reasons why Andres decided to start a new life in Cayman, a little bit more than a year ago. He explains: “The best thing about working at the Beach House is that you can be both a teacher and student. As a company, the learning process and how you can mentor other people to help develop their ideas, skills and recipes is what I love about here. And the open and welcoming environment that allows people to share what they know – that is what I love the most. The reason why I came here was to learn. When you are working in the hotel business, everything is about the experience. It doesn’t matter if you are doing fine or casual dining – you have to transmit your soul. You also have to transmit the soul of all your cooks because you are representing them and that is exactly what we are trying to do here. We are not trying to be selfish or show only the chef’s ideas; we are a community.”
Andres knew from a young age that he wanted to have a culinary career but even his mother didn’t think that was the best choice. He said: “At the beginning, my mom didn’t want me to study to become a chef. She wanted me to pursue studies in Political Science. But every Saturday I worked at a restaurant, peeling 35 kilos of shrimp. I was 17 then – it showed me the real world around the culinary arts. After that, I fell in love with the kitchen. My mom is a Doctor and she doesn’t cook at all. But my grandmother cooked for us everyday and my uncle and aunt cooked for parties and the holidays – that is when I noticed that food brings people together. When we are around the table, people can express themselves and it the perfect moment to make people feel happy. Food makes people happier than politics! So from there I moved to Argentina to study Hotel Management and Culinary Arts. After that I studied to be Sommelier – I trained across many hospitality disciplines. I was working for five years at my previous property as the Executive Chef there. But after sometime I was feeling that I was too much in my comfort zone. Everything was good, we were winning all the awards, but I was feeling like I was getting too comfortable. It was then when I thought to myself ‘it is time to change!” I spoke with my wife and we decided together to leave Ecuador and see where the world would take us. We were thinking of the Caribbean so when Steve, the Executive Chef here called me and offered me a position as Sous Chef, I said “why not?” I arrived in Cayman in November 2016. I love learning and not just the culinary side, I also like learning about people and different cultures.”
When asked what Andres loves about the Cayman lifestyle, he mentions the peaceful rhythm of the island. He elaborates: “You don’t have the stress of travelling and being stuck in traffic. I also like the feeling that you can walk around in the middle of the night and still feel safe. Here, you can be relaxed. Living here gives you time to think about and be conscious about the things that you are doing. You have the luxury of being more mindful and you are connected with what you are doing. And the mood of the island is amazing. Everybody is so happy all the time. Even the days that you are working, you have time to spend in the ocean. I am living where people vacation! I feel very blessed.”
So what is in the pipeline for Andres in the future? He enthuses: “For 2018, we are developing a number of things. To give you an example, we are working with the Banqueting department and one of the questions I ask of them is what are the kinds of experiences that you want our guests to have – what do you want to share with them through their culinary experiences? When we think about the new dishes that we are going to introduce this year we are thinking about the guest experience and the most important thing for us is to make people feel happy. And to try to create those connections not only with the food but also with the whole environment. What I think is so great about working at the Beach House is that we are constantly growing – we never stop.”
Andres’ sunny outlook for the future and passion for learning and teaching is something that is admired at our Beach House. He is very much a creative and forward-thinker. He concludes: “Sometimes you don’t always have to think about the past, now it is very common to hear restaurants say that they want to provide food that conjures up memories from childhood. What I am trying to do is go a step further by developing and bringing the things that for instance my grandmother couldn’t make because she didn’t have the ingredients and resources readily available. Our cuisine is the summary of all the experiences we have lived in our life. When you are in a place like Cayman you realize that the world is a big place and you really have so many cultures represented here. That is a major part of it – not only bring back memories but to create new memories too. What I believe is that when you start feeling that a place is like home, you start bringing the things that define what is home to you and that is where I am right now – Cayman is home. I am bringing some Latin influence into what I do here. I have brought over some cooking techniques from Ecuador but I believe that the most important thing is to use the products that you can find locally. My favourite local ingredient to use is seasoning peppers!”
We can’t wait to see what Andres does in 2018!