DAVID WANG, CULINARY TECHNICAL CHEF IN NESTLÉ (COSTA RICA)
David Wang, an entrepreneur and persistent, studied advertising first but the office routine made him change the course, considering cooking as his second profession. He says that it is not an easy path, you have to be patient to make a dent in the gastronomic world, but everything can be done. We talked with David, a culinary technical chef at Nestlé, the most important multinational food and beverage company in the world in Costa Rica, to explain how a chef’s knowledge helps create, develop or renew recipes for food products for the industry. On the other hand, he has a complete view of the two sides of the coin, because it also drives the haute cuisine of his country, says it is his most romantic side.
By Fabiola Gálvez
Your grandmother was your first reference to cooking, how did you career begin?
I grew up in a family of a single mother because my father died when I was only three months old, from a very young age I had to cook food for myself, because my mother had to go to work. Then, my mother took me to live in the United States, but when I returned, my mother stayed and I came back to live with my grandmother, she cooked very well Costa Rican food, which is where I’m focused on now. We are trying to revive Costa Rican cuisine at an international level, more or less what Peru and Mexico did, even though it is such a small country, there is a lot of product and gastronomy, we have set aside the invasions from other countries.
My first career was actually advertising, and I was job for a few years, but one day I didn’t want to be in the office anymore, so I had a friend with a bar, and he told me: “I rent it to you”, and that was the decision that changed my life.
I started making bar food, washing the dishes, cleaning the floor.
That’s what you said before, that you had done heavy work for several hours in different areas
Yes, when you start with a business, you have to do everything, you did not have so much money to have staff and here in Costa Rica, there is a law called “600” for accessibility of all people, in the house where I was there was no accessibility, the dimensions of the bathroom was not enough to comply with the law, so I had to find a bigger place, and bigger means, more resources, more employment, more money, and over the years, I had to close the restaurant, I almost left the kitchen at that time.
What year was that?
I went through a fatal depression, you don’t even want to see a spoon again, because it feels like you failed, then I realized that as human beings we failed all the time, and decided to give the kitchen another chance, I started working in hospitality, I went to Guatemala, then I came back here, until I arrived as executive chef at The Retreat boutique hotel, for a year. Then, I had a son, I left the hotel and started working as an executive chef at Café Britt. This year, by chance I made a dinner where Nestlé’s food and beverage manager for Costa Rica was, and he told me: “Look, I have a job for you” Actually, I am grateful for the fact that I am here right now and that I have had high exposure in recent months because being with a large brand, many doors open to you.
My focus now is Costa Rican cuisine, however with Nestlé. My main job is to work with other chefs, executive chefs, whether from other franchises, other hotels, with the knowledge that I have, we see what solutions they use to help them maximize employees, reduce costs, maximize equipment or space, and maximize the ingredients, how we make the business more profitable, how we do to reduce the amount of time and the number of employees because that is more profitable because you do not have to continue paying so many overtime. I work with important clients, franchise chains from KFC, Pizza Hut to hotels like the Marriott lines.
Nestlé is the largest food and beverage multinational, how is your job as a chef?
We have a porfatolio of products “Nestlé professional” within which are the funds, the bechamel sauce, dulce de leche, condensed milk, the evaporated milk Ideal. For example, the last time I had a meeting with the Wyndham executive chef, I told him what solutions he is looking for, how we help them, because all chefs ask us for results, to reach a cost goal. We sit down and he tells me: “My weakness is the desserts that are now outdated, I need to develop the products that you have in the line of sweet or pastry.” Then I go to the kitchens, I get involved with the baker and ask him what you are doing, what equipment you have, what your workspace is, and so we develop recipes together that fit both in cost, that are functional and fast to solve. That is my job as well in the salty line as in the sweet line.
How long can the projects take, how to renew the line of desserts you mention?
Some are continuous because Nestlé is interested in having fixed customers and not buying sporadically. Then I visit them and give them a follow-up, the ideal is that (the products) be maintained for a lifetime.
Do you do it with a team of chefs?
We are three who are dedicated to that in Costa Rica. I have a partner who does the same functions as me, and my boss is the one in charge of administrative support, negotiations and contract closures.
Studying advertising has helped you a lot to have experience in the industry and be a chef, it’s like you’ve closed the circle.
Until this year. I changed my job looking for professional experience and as it is said in Costa Rica, “Everybody puts himself where it is sunnier”. They are giving me the opportunity for highest growth, with better opportunities, with a better schedule, and also with a lot of exposure. I have to thank Nestlé for that. In recent months, I have had conferences for professional gastronomy students. They have sent me to other countries like Panama, sharing with other important international chefs. On the other hand, I am part of the board of directors of the National Directorate of Chefs of Costa Rica, I am in charge of the marketing vision and the vision of competition as I studied advertising. I had the opportunity to participate in the Bocuse d’Or in Mexico, here at the competition level is in its infancy so we want to develop it nationally. And the National Association of Chefs is a very important entity of Costa Rican gastronomy, and our mission is to position Costa Rican cuisine internationally.
How many years ago was that revaluation?
As an integral work, for about four or five years.
Then it is a culinary trend of revaluation promoted by the country’s chefs
And culinary trends in haute cuisine such as those seen in Europe of Costa Rican cuisine.
What influence does Costa Rican cuisine have?
It has a conglomerate of cultures. On the Caribbean side, we have lots of Afro-descendant food, it cooks a lot with coconut, curry, chili. On the Guanacaste side, there is a lot of corn, so we have an indigenous mix with Spanish food too. Before the food was hot, there is a lot of meat, rice, bananas, potatoes, beans, now with the new trends we are making a balanced meal. But it is a process because the Costa Rican is used to see everything in one dish.
You have these two aspects in your eyes, on the one hand, haute cuisine and on the other hand, the industry. What is your vision of the two sides of the coin?
It is an antagonism. I describe everything in one word “learning”. Now with Nestlé I am learning, about money, how the food industry works from an economic perspective, we are a capitalist society, the vast majority. This world is like that, everything moves for money for better or worse. With Nestlé I am seeing an industrial culinary perspective, where we are already talking about money and business flows, costs, and on the other hand, it is very passionate, it is a romantic side of the kitchen, but I think I could not do it without stability that Nestlé gives me because it is very risky, and in this country we are not used to eating that way. As I mentioned earlier, Costa Rican culture is all in one dish.
What advice can you give to the young generations of chefs, especially after you had that entrepreneurial setback but in spite of that, you continued on this adventure?
It is not an easy world. Cooking means a lot of trouble at first, a lot of heavy work. The kitchen is not for all people, it is for everyone who has a heart for gastronomy and passion for doing things right, those are the ones that will remain. It is such a difficult world, every day you have to learn something new to improve, be patients that not everything will be good at first, but it takes time, there will be many tests and errors to achieve what you are looking for, everything you are thinking can be achieved, EVERYTHING! However, I can have the most creative and imaginative dish, but it is inedible so you have to find the right ways to do that, you have to fail and have the courage to try again.
Thanks for the advice!
And if we go to Costa Rica, what haute cuisine dish should we try?
One of my favorites is the meat pot which is a traditional soup that has many tubers and beef. The achiotada chicken, corn rice, which is cascaded very thinly like rice, which was prepared perhaps as a risotto. There are 500 to 1000 dishes that you can taste. If you are here, do not hesitate to call me and I will take you to eat.
Thank you very much, David! I’ll keep that in mind, if I go around there. It has been a pleasure. Here the day is over…
And here, I need to deliver some Kit Kat cakes but I’m almost done, and then I’m going for my son.
See you later, chef David Wang from Costa Rica! We closed the year with this interview, which was very culinary knowledge. We wish him the best from CookConcern.
Happy New Year 2020!