Claudio Foschi, the Colombian chef: Claudio Foschi, the Colombian chef who got into the White House kitchen

Claudio Foschi, the Colombian chef: Claudio Foschi, the Colombian chef who got into the White House kitchen
Claudio Foschi, the Colombian chef: Claudio Foschi, the Colombian chef who got into the White House kitchen

Claudio Foschi (Barranquilla, 46 years old) is a chef made by hand. A modest man who never imagined rubbing shoulders with the political class of Capitol Hill or Georgetown, in Washington. Foschi speaks with amazement and gratitude of what he has achieved in life, a journey from the kitchen of his childhood in Barranquilla, Colombia, to that of the White House. It must not have been easy, but in the best moment of his career, the chef summarizes his rise in a classic recipe that mixes effort, character and perseverance. Athletes, politicians and artists have tried some of his dishes, in which there is often a space reserved for the flavors of Colombia. Today, working alongside chef José Andrés, Foschi recognizes that gastronomy is an engine that unites stories around a good gazpacho or a simple egg arepita.

Ask. How did you get started in the world of cooking?

Answer. I started cooking from a very young age because of my dad’s family, who are Italian. My grandfather always cooked at home, the stove was always on, we had the tradition of cooking every Sunday. We prepared fresh pasta with recipes absolutely faithful to many Italian menus.

Q. And were you already thinking about dedicating yourself to cooking?

R. At 14 I started technically cooking. I liked to prepare sauces and experiment. Then I went to university to study business administration, in Barranquilla (Colombia), and I made pizzas to sell to my classmates. My mother went to live in the United States and once I went to visit her I stayed in Washington. I started working in restaurants as a waiter and little by little I advanced, but my dad joined the real estate business and I ended up working as an interpreter. I did very well for six years, until there was a downturn in business and I lost everything, I became bankrupt. I was forced to think about something else. I was married and had a daughter when I decided to start over and study cooking at a school in Maryland.

Q. How was the change?

R. Long and difficult, but I always had the support of my wife. There I discovered that this was my true passion. I drove an hour and a half every morning to take my classes at seven in the morning and graduated with honors. I started from the bottom, at 10 dollars an hour. My first job was with a two-Michelin-star French chef—who had been my teacher—then I moved on to another restaurant in Fairfax with a chef from New York.

Claudio Foschi cooking arepas in a New York restaurant.Instagram Foschi

Q. He was in several restaurants in the capital until he crossed paths with José Andrés.

R. I had the opportunity to work with José Andrés, with whom I have been working for 10 years. We opened America Eats in Georgetown and then the pandemic hit. The restaurant I was at closed, three others closed temporarily and let almost 80% of the workers go, but I had the opportunity to continue working. Then we cooked for the Golf Masters in Georgia and even for a team of astronauts. Then came the opportunity to prepare a White House dinner for First Lady Jill Biden in October 2023.

Q. What did they serve for dinner?

R. It was a spectacular experience, but at the same time very demanding. The starter was a gazpacho with lobster, the second course was an Eisenhower Stew, based on the former president, who was a lover of cooking, and the dessert was a Smith Island Cake. I was the first Colombian chef to cook at the White House, so this was a real honor for me. By the way, the kitchen is small, that caught my attention [risas].

Q. Who have been your most recognized clients?

R. We have received great figures such as Barack and Michelle Obama, Jeff Bezos, MC Hammer, many golfers and well-known artists and figures.

Q. What does someone like Jeff Bezos eat?

R. [Risas] He loves paellas, rice dishes, that’s not a secret. But I also remember that I prepared a Colombian menu for a group of astronauts and they loved it.

Q. And the Obamas?

R. Michelle loves Arabic food, vegetables, healthy food, food with a lot of flavor.

Menu of the dinner offered at the White House.ASSIGNED

Q. What is it like for a Latino to start in the gastronomic sector in the United States?

R. It is not difficult, it is a matter of will and focus, in the United States there are many opportunities. It’s not cheap, but it can be done. There are many people who start with the famous carts or food trucks. There are others who begin by making meals in places, what today they call pop-ups, to attract clients and investors.

Q. Have you ever felt discrimination?

R. No discrimination, but be careful, kitchens have always been very hard places to work. When I started, I was under French basic training, that old school that is characterized by being strong, almost military, and it is not easy. In a kitchen in the United States there may be workers from different parts of the world and the demands are very high and sometimes the treatment is harsh, but I do not see it as something personal because I am a migrant, but as part of the profession I chose.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who dreams of cooking professionally?

R. Nowadays everything is given for people to explore their skills in the kitchen, but it is very important to differentiate between cooking richly and cooking professionally. You should not open a restaurant because there is empirical talent. It is important to become professional because the numbers of restaurants that go bankrupt in the first year are alarming. Nowadays there are many fields of action for chefs: hotels, food trucks, companies, films, private chefs for artists or athletes. But starting a restaurant is a decision that requires a lot of preparation.

Q. Do you want to have your own restaurant?

R. I never rule out that idea, but it is not in my short-term plans and I want to take it step by step. I would do it with a Colombian food proposal, because, although my friend Juan Manuel Barrientos is doing a great job with El Cielo DC, I feel that there is still a lot of room.

Q. What are your three favorite restaurants?

R. It’s difficult to choose three, but when it comes to influential food, I remember one in Chicago, Charlie Trotter’s restaurant, who was still alive at that time and came out to greet me. It was a spectacular dinner, he gave me an impressive tour. Another moment that I won’t forget is a dinner at Per Se, in New York. I went alone, I sat down to try the food and it was so good that I cried with emotion because I relived so many years of efforts, of late nights to be a chef. Food has that power. In Colombia there are many: El Chato is spectacular, Manuel in Barranquilla, Prudencia. And every time I can, I visit the market squares in Bogotá. I think there is nothing like eating a fried fish on the beach, a fried fish on a corner with a beer or an almojábana in any corner of Colombia. That reminds you that there is nothing like Latin America.

 
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