Vitals: Born in New York to Dominican parents, Kelvin Fernandez never dreamed as a kid he’d be a chef. In fact, he never showed interest in food – despite the fact that his dad was a chef – until he enrolled in a high school cooking class in order to impress his high school sweetheart. That class ignited a passion for all things culinary and now at age 28, Fernandez has made a name for himself as the youngest executive chef ever on New York City’s fine dining scene. He was also a runner up on Food Network’s “Chopped” and will be opening his first restaurant, Blend on the Water, in New York at the end of September.
Experience: Fernandez earned a full scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America in HJyde Park, New York. After graduation, Fernandez worked at Michelin-starred Water’s Edge in Long Island City under renowned chef George Masraff. Equipped with French training and fine dining know-how, Fernandez then spent several years working at Gotham Bar & Grill before landing at Café des Artistes. At just 22 years old, he was tapped to become the executive chef at El Antipasti in Westchester. He spent two years there before landing at the Strand Hotel in NYC, where he specialized in contemporary American dining as the hotel’s executive chef.
On returning to his Latin roots: “I’m not your typical rice and beans guy, so I want every dish in my restaurant to be full of familiar flavors but turned out a way that’s unexpected. One of the dishes I’m working on is a play on pernil, rice and beans. It’s crispy pork belly with mangu and a black bean sauce. My food won’t be strictly Dominican, because it’s more fun to gather inspiration from across Latin America and the Caribbean. Because of that, I know I’ll never get bored.”
His advice for young chefs: “Work for the chefs you admire and want to be like one day. If you work for a level-C chef, you’re going to cook like a level-C chef. And don’t forget to learn from everyone. I’ve learned how to peel shrimp faster from my dishwasher; my sous teach me their family recipes. If you have an open mind and are able to learn from everyone around you, you’ll find yourself inspired every day.”
On his not-so-secret guilty pleasure: “I adore ice cream, which I can eat all day, every day. If I eat pancakes or waffles for breakfast, I put ice cream on top. And if I could, I’d end lunch and dinner with a scoop of ice cream. My favorite flavor is dulce de leche. Haagen-Dazs recently released a limited-time flavor, Bananas Foster, which is another favorite of mine.”
On the one dish he can’t make as well as mom: “My mom is an amazing cook and makes the best sofrito. She can give me the recipe a million times, but it’s always better when she makes it. I haven’t lived at home since I was 17, but every time I visit I ask for my mom’s pernil, which she marinates in that sofrito. I eat the pernil with white rice – no beans. It’s so good!”
On his fantasy last meal: “Foie gras. I enjoy the experience of trying new things and in 2003, I visited Broadway, owned by a Dominican chef named Amar Santana. It’s in Laguna Beach, California and the last thing I expected to eat there was the best foie gras I’ve ever had. He prepared it with an apple tartine with pomegranate and that’s by far one of the top three things I’ve ever had. Nothing I’ve had since then compares to that dish.”