A chat with Top Chef New Orleans’ Louis Maldonado

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I first met Louis Maldonado back in 2001 at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Louis and I were part of an extremely talented class that included such great chefs as Erik Idos, most recently the executive chef at Nobu in Hong Kong, Fog City’s Erik Lowe & Liza Shaw of the soon to open Merigan Sub Shop.  Louis, definitely not one to be outdone by our talented classmates, rose through the ranks quickly, moving from One Market, to Cortez, then onto Aziza. Oh yeah, he also put in time at the French Laundry & Café Majestic all the while earning a Michelin star along the way before taking his current position as executive chef of Healdsburg’s Spoonbar & Pizzando.

The future looks even brighter for my old classmate as this month he will be one of the Chefs competing on Bravo’s Top Chef New Orleans (this season premiers October 2nd on Bravo). I caught up with Louis recently & was lucky enough to steal a moment of his time… Should you have the chance I suggest you do the same & stop by Spoonbar or Pizzando to see what he is all about. You won’t be dissapointed.

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B&T: Well, lets get the big one out of the way first! Congratulations on being selected for Top Chef New Orleans, how did that come about?

LM: They contacted me in January and wanted to talk to me about possibly being on the show. I had talked with them in the past but was never really interested or in a position where I was able to actually leave the restaurant for awhile. I talked with my staff and they encouraged me to move forward with it. I talked with TC for about 4 months before I was chosen. Lots of interviews and questions about my life both personal and professional. It is quite the process just leading up to being chosen for the show.

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B&T: As a long time Sonoma county resident, how is it being back in your old stomping grounds after establishing your career in San Francisco?

LM: Coming back and being closer to my parents and sisters has been great. I never really thought I would come back and create a home base for myself here. Healdsburg is really an amazing place, small town but it has a modern hip feel to it. It also happens to be a getaway destination for residents of the bay area, so I still get regulars from SF coming up here for a weekend and dining with us. As much as I miss the energy and vibe of the city I feel like I’m able to focus more here on where the restaurants need to go. There are not many distractions so that has been a big factor in pushing the restaurant forward. Also for my parents it’s the first time since I left for culinary school almost 12 years ago that I have been so close to them and in a position to go up for dinner and get back home with ease.

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B&T: I’ve always been a big fan of what Sonoma county has to offer as far as all things culinary, what are some of your favorite local restaurants & wineries?

LM: Preston winery is amazing, they have not only wine but also olive oil and amazing bread. VML is on the other side and is just in a stunning area. Im lucky because I have two restaurants that are both different conceptually but both are based on things I want to eat daily or when I go out, so both Spoonbar and Pizzando are my favorite restaurants. If I had to venture out I would go to Saigon Bistro in Windsor or the Hamburger Ranch in Cloverdale. I have been going to Hamburger Ranch since I was a kid and now they have awesome BBQ.

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B&T: Any recommendations as to how visitors to the area can spend their time aside from all the great food & wine?

LM: The river! Find a way to get on the Russian river and soak it up for a day. I happen to live right on it and it really is unbelievable and beautiful year around.

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B&T: You and your family are dedicated to the craft of Martial Arts, do you feel the lessons learned from that have helped you in your career as a chef?

LM: I learned all of my life lessons from karate and the culture that was created there. I’m a huge advocate for it for kids not only to protect themselves, but also what gets developed mentally from it. Confidence, determination, respect, honesty all these things that make you a good and successful person.

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B&T: As a lot of chefs & cooks know, it can be difficult to balance family life & cooking professionally, what do you think are some keys to making it work?

LM: I am terrible at balancing my personal and professional life in all honesty. I work really well when I’m doing a lot of projects. I always want to push the restaurant harder and myself and constantly evolve the restaurant so I have a hard time stopping and seeing everything else around me. I make time on Wednesdays to spend the day with my son and let him dictate what he wants to do for the day. He’s the boss on those days and I just follow his lead. Eventually all the work will pay off and I will be in a position to take more time with him.

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B&T: What’s next for you? any big plans in the works?

LM: We have a few projects lined up for the next 3 years, they are all on the verge of being finalized so I can’t say much about them other then I will be crazy busy for awhile.

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B&T: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat, I know I’m just one of the many who is excited to see what you have in store! take care bud!!

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