Chef Spotlight: Luis Estrada of Salt Creek Grille – Princeton

This sponsored article is brought to you by Salt Creek Grille – Princeton.

Chef Luis Estrada Salt Creek Grille

We shined the Jersey Bites Chef Spotlight on Chef Luis Estrada of Salt Creek Grille.

JERSEY BITES: What is your earliest food memory?
CHEF LUIS ESTRADA: My grandmother always drilled it into me that I needed to learn how to cook. She would say, “You need to learn how to cook, so you don’t need a woman to cook for you!” I know it’s funny, but that’s what she said, and it’s my strongest memory related to cooking.

When did you realize you wanted to make cooking a career? Was there an “aha” moment?
I was washing dishes when one day, the chef asked me if I wanted to cut some mushrooms. He saw my skills with the knife and told me I could be a good chef. The rest is history! I will never forget that moment.

Any interesting stories about where and with whom you started cooking professionally?
When l was in the culinary program at MCCC, on the Trenton campus, l had to cook with my instructors. At first, both of them were in shock because the types of food they were familiar with is so different to the food I know! After the initial shock, we started sharing stories, skills, and even recipes! They now see that I chose the right career because I love cooking and spending time in the kitchen doing different things and experimenting with everything.

What is your cooking style?
I am Latino, so my cooking style often reflects a combination of Spanish, Asian, and American cuisine. That said, I like to play and experiment with food, so I’m always trying new techniques and styles as well.

What is the greatest opportunity that has come to you from cooking?
One of the greatest things that I discovered about cooking is that it’s free to learn, and free to share what you’ve learned with others. I love learning from my mistakes in the kitchen—it makes me a better cook, and a better person.

What is the most memorable meal you’ve had, what did you eat and where was it?
My most memorable meal was actually an end cut rib eye at Salt Creek Grille! I was actually working there at the time. The chef asked me if I wanted to eat something, and I chose the rib eye! It was perfectly cooked, juicy, and delicious.

It’s your last day on earth: what will your final meal be?
Did I mention how much I loved that end cut rib eye? That would definitely be my last meal.

What is the best advice you have to share with young folks interested in becoming chefs?
As a chef, you have to be prepared for anything. You’ll work long shifts, weekends, and holidays. You’ll probably spend more time working than you do with your family. The most important thing is that you need to love not only cooking but preparing and presenting the food that you make. These are the keys to being a good chef. One more thing: it’s OK to be a little crazy! Some of the best dishes come from being daring, trying new combinations, and pushing the limits a bit.

If you could choose to be any food item, what would it be?
Corn. For my ancestors, corn is like gold. People in my country eat corn every day.

What is the one staple food you always have in your cupboard at home?
Cilantro! It’s so versatile that I have ground, seed, fresh herb and dry cilantro… and even grow it in my garden!

What is your beverage of choice?
I don’t drink alcohol, so I drink a lot of water to keep me hydrated.

What is your favorite comfort food?
If I’m cooking for myself, I have two comfort foods. Firstly, a goat cheese béchamel pasta: the dish has fresh farmers vegetables, sautéed shrimp, and linguini pasta tossed in the sauce. What l love about this dish is the light, spicy flavor from the sauce (which has jalapeno, chipotle and pepper flakes). Secondly, I love short ribs! What l love about this type of protein is if it is cooked perfectly the beef is tender and feels like it will literally melt in your mouth. Make sure to include a good seasoning and sides, too!

What New Jersey restaurant do you enjoy dining at, besides your own?
Besides Salt Creek Grille, you mean? Actually, I don’t go out to eat very often. I prefer to stay at home and cook there! Although, I do I like the burgers at Red Robin…

If you could have dinner with any three people, living, deceased or fictional, who would they be and why?
Three girls! My wife, my mom, and my grandmother. The latter two are really the first people who started teaching me how to cook.

Are you working on any upcoming projects our readers would be interested in learning about?
Vegan dishes are in demand, so I’m working on a vegan lasagna. The biggest challenge is finding the right ingredient to replace the cheese, but I’m excited about it. It’s going to be delicious!