“If you have passion for the food you will do a good job of [cooking] it,” said a student aspiring to become a chef.
Erick Palacios quickly walks to the Los Robles kitchen while dodging his fellow classmates, prepares a dish, then comes out to serve waiting customers. For him it is another day of doing what he does best: cooking.
Palacios entered an egg-based egg-based recipe in a competition of the American Egg Board’s 2004 Global Flavors Recipe Contest and he won for his Mediterranean recipe.
The four categories open to both professional and student chefs in the August contest were for dishes from the Mediterranean Rim, Latin America, the European Union and the Pacific Rim.
“It was just a lucky shot they decided to open it to students. A a lot of schools participated,” said Palacios.
He submitted entries for all categories and “did a fantastic job,” said Andrew D. Feldman, a culinary arts instructor at GCC. “He came out on top.”
While the nationwide contest was open to both professionals and students, it was held in separate divisions. College students competed with other college students and professional chefs competed with other professionals in the industry.
“The only thing that divided us [students],” said Palacios, “was that they [professionals] were already in the business.”
The contestants were judged for their mail-in recipes.
Palacios’s award-winning recipe was for wine-poached eggs with polenta over ratatouille. It was nutrition-based with cornmeal on one side and pasta on the other. The intent was to make a flavorful yet simple dish anyone can cook and enjoy.
He said: “You have the beginning and the end; you have to think of the in-between. It’s dissecting a plate…there’s chemistry to it.”
Palacio’s passion for the art first started when he was a child. Through the years he taught himself how to cook by trial and error.
“I started playing around when I was little…I beat eggs until my arms felt like falling off. All this [cooking] I had to learn myself.”
The decision to learn to cook at an early age was not influenced by his family, and it was not his first career choice.
“I changed carreers many times,” said Palacios. At one point, he even wanted to become a physical education instructor.
“They [alternative careers] were not calling me,” he said. “You have to find your niche, and I found mine.”
Palacios intends to complete all the available courses in the Culinary Arts offered at GCC in addition to his lower division transfer work.
“I have taken most of them already,” he said. “I might as well do all of them.”
Culinary Arts Department Chair Yeimei Wang said: “Erick truly has a passion in working in the food industry.”
Palacios takes his passion for cooking very seriously yet explains that having fun with the profession one pursues is necessary in order to have a successful career. “You need discipline with a tender grip,” he said.
“He [Palacios] has good people skills,” said Yeimei. “He takes that little extra mile which makes him stand out.”
Palacios, who is hoping to transfer to Cal Poly Pomona next year, will have to face some complications along the way.
Not all the culinary courses that he is taking count as transferable units, he said. This will force Palacios to take the same courses over again at Cal Poly Pomona, causing him a substantial amount of money and time, but that won’t stop Palacios from pursuing his career.
“If that’s what I have to do, I’ll do it…I would have to work from the bottom up,” he said.
Nino Battaglia, a GCC instructor who teaches restaurant management and catering, said: “I’ve known Erick for almost two years … he has always been motivated.”
Palacios’s goal is to become a professional chef and then become an instructor some day. “This is my calling,” he said.