At only 25 years of age, chef David Zamudio has managed to travel the world exercising his passion for cooking.
David was raised in the eastern province of Venezuela, known as Estado de Oriente. At age 12 his parents divorced and after the divorce each of his parents had to start a new life which involved time and essentially starting from scratch. Through this time David spent a lot of it alone, and as a good man, he was always hungry. This led to him experimenting in the kitchen with simple things: pasta, eggs, sautéed vegetables, and pork chops. Eventually he grabbed the knife and learned how to cut vegetables which in turn allowed him to create more combinations. Zamudio started to experiment more, incorporating seasoning into his dishes creating more palatable and unique combinations.
After the divorce, several years would pass by until his high school graduation. Those years were key to learning about the kitchen, flavors, and experimenting in his house and to his liking. Before graduating David had already known what he wanted to do. He planned on moving to Margarita Island to study at a site called the Ibero-American Institute of Recreation, Tourism, and Gastronomy. Here, Zamudio would study the career of his dreams: Culinary Arts.
“The truth is that there was always another trigger to my career path. One of my dreams has always been and is currently to travel around the world visiting many countries and to be able to live in several of them. This career is one of the few, at the international level, that does not need revalidation, but practice and a lot of experience to be able to exercise it anywhere. Eating is part of the daily routine of human beings, it is an inevitable necessity, so everyone in the world will want to eat and that cannot be changed. This is another reason why I was so attracted to cooking as a profession and continue to pursue greatness in the field.“
In pursuit of his career in food, and while studying, David first began working at a franchise company called Keik Cupcakes. They are well-known in Margarita and operate more than 5 stores now. David’s aunt had read a lot about restaurants and food after eventually finding out that they had opened their first store in Margarita Island.
“I went in to have a meeting with the owners and that’s how I started working with them. They were looking for someone young and very similar to my profile. I liked them a lot and they hired me.”
At the beginning Zamudio had helped to make coffees and sandwiches, from time to time he would help in the bakery. Eventually teaching him more about pastry, how to make cupcakes, how to use the machinery, and other skills. One of the ladies who made the cupcakes eventually resigned and they offered her position to Zamudio. “I stayed with them awhile and would consider them to be my first formal job in the culinary world.”
Eventually David experienced one of his strongest and most notorious work experiences -- Working on a 6-star cruise ship called the Silversea. This experience gives customers a gastronomically and touristic unique and luxurious experience compared to other cruise liners. The job gave David the opportunity to travel much of the world. He went to many countries and cities and was introduced to many different cultures, both within the ports they stopped at, as well as within the cruise personnel. Being part of the crew on such a majestic cruise ship left him… exhausted… yet fulfilled.
It is difficult, heavy work, because there are no breaks on the boats. In addition, not only do you work in the position assigned to you, but you must train to know the handling of other position in case of an emergency. This involved knowing other crew positions, fire emergency procedures, and how to help others, especially guests. Work was 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You ate on the ship, slept on the ship, basically lived there for months at a time. Clearly, workers became your family, your friends, your brothers and sisters. However, getting along with everyone seemed to be a task in and of itself. It’s not like if you didn’t get along with someone you wouldn’t see them the next day. They were always there, and this required managing your emotions otherwise you’d sink, and not literally.
When I first started working on the ship, there were many employees who treated me poorly, they often buzzed me and were even racist towards me. Little by little, they eventually grabbed me with confidence, and began to love me. It was not easy, it took a lot of patience, and I had to adapt myself to their work pace, their jokes, and their way of being. I must admit that these people, especially Filipinos and Hindus, are working machines, which for various reasons, do not appreciate those who are not similar to them at first sight.
After putting in the immense amount of effort day after day, the reward came. Everything began to flow and became much simpler, even working up to 12 hours a day, not having days off, and not seeing land for days. You eventually get used to it, so much so that many times you prefer not to sleep when the ship docks just so you can explore the new city you’ve arrived at.
“In general, working on a cruise ship is not just an effort not to sleep and work every day. It is a rewarding experience to be able to relate to so many cultures and learn from each one of them; from words, customs, traditions, and even their favorite dishes. Working on Silversea was worth every drop of sweat and every early morning, because nobody can take away the family I had created on that ship, the friends I have now, around the world, and the vision it gave me regarding luxury, elegance, and sophistication that can come from a trip on the high seas.”
My life thus far has been such an amazing learning experience and my goal as of now and one of my greatest illusions has always been to be listed as one of the best Venezuelan chefs. Day by day I work to acquire more knowledge and more skill and experience. Hard work does have its reward, it does help to be better, to perfect a technique. In relation to my country, I would love to be the new Armando Scannone and have a blue or red cookbook that is as famous as Armando’s, which is not lacking in a Venezuelan kitchen. I want to transmit my recipes and my knowledge to all Venezuelan houses as he has done, managing to hit the point with the seasoning and flavors of Venezuela.
I love to see people's reaction to eating. See that people are happy with the result, that they are satisfied, willing, and that they want more. It is a vocation of service, of giving, of leaving a mark on a unique sensation in others. Every person in the world has a way of giving, mine is through the kitchen.
Currently Zamudio is working as the executive sous chef for Alma Cocina Latina, a Venezuelan restaurant in Baltimore City. In this position I have had many opportunities to explore my creativity while innovating new dishes. I’m able to apply the knowledge I have acquired from my work in Michelin Star-rated restaurants around the world. I am especially proud of my Paella de Mariscos Alma Style, a Latin paella that has rapidly become the most popular dish on the menu.
Q1: What is your area or branch within the gastronomy and who do you admire In the Gastronomic Industry of Venezuela? What are your predetermined objectives in the field of gastronomy?
A: Although I like many areas, especially to know more about the different cuisines of the world, the cultures and the flavors that identify several countries of the world, my branch, or, rather, the branch to which I have taken the most love and to which more I have dedicated is Latin cuisine.
I love the flavors that mix in the kitchens of Latin America. I think that the combination of these is the future of gastronomy, since European cuisine, as well as Asian cuisine, are very famous and have become very commercial, without neglecting the effort and effort that their chefs have put into it. However, for me, Latin cuisine is not completely discovered and that is why I focus more on it, on experiencing it, on knowing it, studying it and on continuing to carry that seasoning around the world, educating palates wherever it happens.
As far as who I admire, this is a key and easy question. For me, Enrique Limardo has no comparison. He is one of the best chefs in Venezuela and in the world.His career is impeccable, he has worked in large restaurants worldwide, also studied in the heart of gastronomy, in San Sebastián (Spain). Since I started studying Gastronomy, I had heard about what Enrique had accomplished and I always saw him as an example to follow. I consider him the best chef in Venezuela. I admire him very much; I have a lot of appreciation and affection for him and I really learn something new from him every day. I look forward to contributing to Venezuelan cuisine as much as he has for many years.
Q2: What dish shouts “HOME” to you when you eat it? What dish do you recommend to someone who visits Venezuela for the first time?
A: The dish that tastes like Venezuela, without a doubt, is the arepa. In the houses of Venezuela there is ALWAYS an arepa. I am sure that all Venezuelans identify with it. It’s a dish, first, that can be prepared with anything, and second, there is no Venezuelan mother who does not prepare arepa(s). At least once a week for breakfast. Definitely, the arepa is equal to home.
If you’re spending your first time in Venezuela, I definitely recommend you’d try one. Toasty street-style sandwiches, arepas are made of corn flour and can be stuffed with whatever you choose, from black beans and cheese to smoked pork with avocado and pickled onions. Arepas are a staple of Venezuelan cuisine, and so versatile that they can be enjoyed by any plate.
Q3: Who have been your biggest inspirations in the workplace? Where do you feel most comfortable in the kitchen? Why?
A: What a complex question. From my first job at Keik Cupcakes, chef Gilmar Cobarrubia was a source of inspiration. I remember that he had a very good memory, photographic memory type. He read daily about the history of gastronomy and everything was recorded. To be surrounded by her was to be in an environment of joy, wisdom, and learning. The days went by very quickly and I was just asking questions about the kitchen, the why’s, and its history. It was like a small school, not only because of what I learned at work but because of everything she taught me about the ‘behind the scenes’ in the kitchen.
Also, on weekends, I worked with Mauricio Garcia. I just saw him recently, after many years without seeing him and he didn’t remember much about me; however, for me, Mauricio marked my way of seeing the kitchen. My first event cooking as an assistant was for Gourmet Area, which is a catering company of chef Mauricio Garcia. It was a wedding in Car of approximately 400 people. There were between 3 and 4 days of previous production. The day of the event we worked from 7:00 a.m. until 4:00 a.m. the next day; I had never had that experience of working such long hours without stopping, but it was certainly worth it, effort and learning at all times. Above all, being able to see a recognized chef from Margarita up close and manage to make food for so many people with a team of 5-6 chefs, it seemed shocking. Although I only worked on a few events for him, he taught me a lot.
The 6-star cruise line, Silversea, is a luxury cruise line that focuses on elderly passengers, retired, with lots of money, who want to enjoy the good things in life. When working on the boat, I had a teacher Professor Ricardo Bajao Macarayan, known as Chef Macarayan. With an experience of about 25 years in cruises, of which he had been in that company for approximately 18 years, with the position of Chef de Cuisine, he preferred to keep his position to be uploaded. He taught me a lot about the temperatures that must be taken to meet the standards of hygiene and food handling, even how to cook various dishes from different continents, since the ship passed through both American and Europe.
I feel very comfortable on the hot line, in charge of meat or fish, more than anything with regard to the temperatures of the proteins and the ability to take a rush hour quite strong and still, take out all the dishes as they should be and in the time it takes. I think of that as a virtue. There are many cooks who are afraid of them or even prefer not to be in charge of protein or fish, that fear of being wrong and being scolded. I feel really comfortable here, with that rush of adrenaline when there are no more tickets and you must organize yourself in an impeccable way to get the game out.
It is an incredible feeling to see that you have the full line of tickets with different temperatures, that there are more than 50 people ordering something different, some want salmon, others round trip, they send you 5 steaks at different temperatures. That’s when the heartbeat begins to rise, and the magic begins.
Q4: You made your move to America last year and began working at Alma Cocina Latina in Baltimore. How did that job opportunity arise and what was your process like moving here and working at Alma Cocina Latina? What have been your biggest challenges since starting your new position and transitioning to America?
A: It is a curious story. After getting off the cruise, I wanted to take a vacation, travel a little, get to know something new. A friend, who was in Baltimore, told me to visit him and I didn't think twice. Upon arriving in the city, I researched a little about what was there and found this restaurant. Then I realized that I had heard of him; chef is Enrique Limardo is a great Venezuelan chef who had clearly studied and admired quite a lot. That's how I approached Alma. When I arrived at the restaurant, literally when I opened the door of the site, on the way in I met Manuel Pérez, a former professor at the institute where I had studied gastronomy in Margarita. We talked for a while and he invited me to say hello and meet the team. He worked for another place that had the same owners of Alma and introduced them to me.
Irena and Mark are incredible, affectionate, charismatic and very enterprising people. They have managed to take the concept of a gourmet Venezuela, from haute cuisine, to a small city in the United States. Along with the flavors created by Enrique Limardo, I must admit that I ate the best Venezuelan-style food I've tasted in my life.
When I spent a few days in Baltimore, I frequently visited the restaurant, they invited me to participate in the kitchen to help with service and I became friends with everyone, they became like my family. And that's how Enrique invited me to help him on several occasions, in the creation of a restaurant menu of which he is a consultant and now, to be part of his team at Alma Cocina.
This restaurant for me is like a goal that fell from the sky. It is an incredible place to continue growing, to learn from a chef from my same country, from a totally different culture such as the American one and to unite the tastes of this culture with the flavors of mine through the seasoning, the impeccable energy of the team, the family atmosphere and the desire of the owners to continue growing. They are constantly improving and expanding their restaurant, always looking to convey a clear and precise message that Venezuelans are made of flavor, seasoning, pepper and a lot of sweetness.
Q5: What are your predetermined objectives in the field of gastronomy? If you had a crystal ball, what do the next 20 years have in store for you?
A: My main objective now is to continue to acquire knowledge, learn new techniques, know more flavors, cultures and history. I like to constantly learn, and my main goal is now that, to keep learning; in turn, expanding my culinary knowledge. Another one of my goals, more long term, is to eventually open my own restaurant. I would like to start by opening a casual place that can be franchised so that I can dedicate my time to travel and learn more. After being stable in that aspect, I would love to open a Fine Dining Restaurant where I can achieve the greatest goal of ever chef: get a Michelin Star.
For the next few years I will be continuing to work hard, keeping this momentum and continuing to develop and enhance my culinary skills. In 20 years, I definitely see myself owning my own fine dining restaurant where I manage a team of skilled chefs in a major international city. I am interested in introducing Venezuelan Amazonian flavors to the world in an elegant way that showcases indigenous spices and transforms the client’s understanding of traditional Venezuelan cuisine.
If you're interested in learning more about chef David Zamudio you can follow him on Instagram @david_fcz to learn more about him and to get a look into his daily life.
All photography was captured by @ai_rei_rei
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