I asked Ramses Alvarez, executive chef at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, a question that our morning host Dori Zori often asks her guests: “What did your childhood smell like?”
Alvarez and I were sitting down at Crossroads Collective, one of Milwaukee’s food halls, and without hesitation, he told me it was the flowers in Mexico City — specifically marigolds, because they reminded him of the Day of the Dead celebrations.
Alvarez is part of Chef Latinos Wisconsin, an upcoming organization that supports and unites local Latino employees in the culinary industry.
Alvarez said the idea started at a house party hosted by chef Erasmo Guerrero, a sous chef at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. They were reminiscing about their lives and discussing baseball over appetizing food and drinks and the conversation turned into creating a chef support group.
“We said, ‘Let’s make a group where we can make dinners, where we can help other chefs and where we can help the Hispanic community,’” said Alvarez.
The idea to create a group for chefs to help each other grow captivated Alvarez because of his journey to becoming a chef in Milwaukee. It took a long time for Alvarez to find his place in the culinary world and to confidently express himself through cooking. An experience shared with other chefs in the organization.
When Alvarez was younger, he juggled many jobs ranging from pizza delivery driver to construction worker but his life long passion was for cooking. Back in Mexico City, he always found himself in the kitchen turning simple ingredients into edible art. One of his favorite dishes to make was pozole, a traditional Mexican stew. He enrolled in culinary school but before he graduated he decided to come to the United States to find an apprenticeship, a process that Alvarez described as challenging.
“I didn’t speak very good English and it was difficult to try to communicate, connect and understand,” said Alvarez, while holding back tears. “More than anything you always want to be the best when you’re working with other chefs. With a language barrier, it’s really difficult. Sometimes at the end of the night, I used to go home and feel really bad about it.”
The organization started last year and recently Chef Latinos hosted its first dinner series, Las Catrinas, at Good City Brewing Co. The event featured a five-course meal, chefs discussed their inspiration, showcased their favorite ingredients and taught a cooking technique class. The first dinner series benefitted St. Adalbert Church and School on the South Side.
“A lot of people know the food that comes to the table but a lot of the time they don’t know where it comes from,” said Alvarez. “They don’t know who’s making it.”
The organization plans to continue the dinner series and hopes to keep supporting a growing community. Regardless of the name, Chef Latinos Wisconsin is open to anyone seeking support in the culinary industry.