By: Alejandro Rosado
Often, many people wonder why there are so many injustices, disadvantages, and inequalities in this world. At an early age, I learned that if you want to change the world, you must always work as a team, support those who seek a better life, and start in your own backyard.
A few days ago, I had the opportunity to talk again with my friend, Chef Joel Vázquez. To my surprise, he is a fan of my columns, which is an incredible honor. It turns out that Joel has been living in South Florida for some time. His new venture in the culinary world is being the Executive Chef of Arc Culinary, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to provide tools to children and adults with disabilities. We’ll delve into Arc Broward and Arc Culinary in another column. But who is Joel? Where does he come from? What is his background?
Joel is originally from Utuado, Puerto Rico. He practically learned to speak and walk in a kitchen because his family had a café/restaurant in the Viví neighborhood of Utuado. Among his academic credentials are studies in technical/architectural drawing, mechanical engineering, and culinary arts from organizations such as the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico and Harvard. In his professional career, he has worked as a private consultant, teacher, Sous Chef, dishwasher, bartender, and much more.
He says, “I like to read. I think everyone should read. Everything that challenges your knowledge, intelligence, and skills… it all comes together and gives you the tools to create something functional, aesthetic, and appealing to your senses. I felt the need to give back to the community. I went to a Christian friend in Santurce, and he told me, ‘Joel, you have a calling.’ Many years later, I was in St. Thomas, and that’s where I received a call from an old friend with whom I had worked in Kansas City, developing the logistics of feeding 76,000 people at Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL, and here we are.” Joel never stopped smiling and continued, “Here, I have a purpose. When I wake up in the morning, I have no complaints about getting out of bed to go to work. My role is to inspire and provide tools to those who work with me and for me. Additionally, I have students in my kitchen. I am fortunate to have an ‘Emeril Lagasse Foundation Innovation Kitchen’ at my disposal to make this world a better place.”
As the Executive Chef of Arc Culinary, Joel manages 5 kitchens for nonprofit organizations and soon 2 kitchens for homeless shelters. Among the tasks is preparing and serving 90 breakfasts, 120 lunches, snacks, and dinners. He has a government federal nutritionist on his team because, as a nonprofit organization operating with federal and state grants, they must comply with a range of regulations. “I didn’t do it alone; I had help from some incredible chefs, so I can’t take all the credit myself. The work of a chef is always about teamwork. Francisco Lindor alone couldn’t beat the Yankees.” They also host banquets and manage the civic center in the city of Sunrise, FL, which has a ballroom for 300 people. In this particular center, Joel was tasked with designing the entire menu.
“All the revenue we generate here is pro-fund for the institution. We create a four-week meal plan. We have three chefs, including Patrick, who graduated from the program and has a diagnosis of Autism. Here, we teach, train, and hire graduates. Our system works and is proven. Job offers from the private industry always come my way; the other day, there was one with a six-figure salary. But again, here I have a purpose. However, before I retire, I have one dream left to fulfill, which is to work with Chef José Andreas’ foundation. I owe him a lot. I want to do it on behalf of Puerto Rico for his work in the world and especially during Hurricane Maria.”