Chef’s Thoughts with Nelson Millán

By | April 4th, 2018

In addition to his role as Executive Chef of San Antonio CC, Nelson Millán has made it his lifelong mission to continue his education while mentoring and inspiring the next generation of culinary talent.

Nelson MillánBorn in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Nelson Millán, Executive Chef of San Antonio (Texas) Country Club, is a master technician who has worked at several prestigious establishments over the course of his impressive career, including the Sea Island (Georgia) Company, Ocean Reef Club (Key Largo, Fla.), and the Hotel Del Coronado (San Diego, Calif.).

When he took on his current role at San Antonio CC in August 2010, Millán also began mentoring local culinary students as an adjunct professor at the Culinary Institute of America’s new San Antonio campus. He has presented at C&RB’s Chef to Chef Conference on two separate occasions, and is also a monthly blogger for C&RB’s Chef to Chef.

  1. You’d be surprised to learn that I was a percussionist for a Christian band that recorded a few videos for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that were used during his crusades in Spanish-speaking countries.
  2. If I could trade places with one chef it would be Gaston Acurio.
  3. One of my most memorable meals was at Maido, a Nikkei restaurant in Lima, Peru. I attended a dinner by Chef Mitsuharu “Micha” Tsumura with a “200-mile tasting menu” that celebrated the country’s Pacific shoreline.
  4. My go-to drink is Topo Chico mineral water with a squeezed lime wedge and a pinch of salt.
  5. My last meal would be my mom’s beef pionono with rice and red beans.
  6. My worst culinary creation was my first ice sculpture. I tried to carve a dolphin and it ended up looking like a pig jumping out of water.
  7. If I could change one thing about my club it would be the supreme chicken crêpes. They’re fun to eat, but not fun to assemble in bulk.
  8. My favorite junk foods are french fries and vanilla ice cream.
  9. If I wasn’t a chef, I’d love to be a percussionist for Earth, Wind & Fire.
  10. I knew I wanted to be a chef when I was eight and I made my first pizza. It was then that I discovered that I have the power to create food with my own two hands that can nourish people and make them happy.
  11. You’ll never see calf liver and onions on the menu at my club, because I haven’t found a great way to make it appetizing yet.
  12. The most ridiculous member or guest request I’ve ever had was a member who claimed she was allergic to sea bass, but ordered the salmon instead.
  13. I love being a club chef because of the flexibility, time balance and lifestyle.
  14. When I’m not in the kitchen, you will find me either in my home music studio or teaching Latin Caribbean cuisine at the CIA San Antonio campus.
  15. My biggest mistake when I first started as a chef was thinking I could learn everything I needed to be successful in a short period. Surprise—I’m still learning!
  16. If I were stranded on a desert island, I’d want these five foods with me: adobo seasoning, plantains, pork, rice and beans.
  17. I cook fried crispy hot dogs at home, but I’d never cook it at the club.
  18. If I could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, it would be King Solomon, who was known for his wisdom, wealth and writings.
  19. The most valuable piece of advice I’ve ever received was save your money, so you can make comfortable decisions in the future.
  20. My favorite celebrity chef is Paul Prudhomme, because he represented everything a chef could be. He owned his own restaurants, was a television personality, and a savvy businessman. I had the opportunity to meet him twice before he died in 2015.
  21. The most important thing in my kitchen is my team.
  22. I want to learn more about psychology, because it will help me better understand the individuals on my team and allow me to lead them better.
  23. My favorite ingredient is adobo seasoning. Beef tenderloin is the most overrated ingredient. Plantains, both ripe and green, are the most undervalued ingredient. I detest calf livers, and I can’t live without garlic.
  24. The rule of conduct in my kitchen is: I’m not here to push you, I’m here to provide you with guidance and direction while you push yourself.
  25. My most embarrassing moment in the kitchen was during my externship in Geneva, Switzerland. Music has always been a big part of my life, and I tend to whistle unconsciously while doing tedious prep work. Sure enough, I was whistling and the chef grew very annoyed. He threatened me in front of the entire crew in his thick French accent. He said, “Nelson! No whistling in my kitchen! You whistle again and you are out.” Since then, I have tried to pay more attention to my whistling habit, but I still often find myself whistling away.
  26. In clubs, I would like to see more guest chef dinners with club chefs. Going to the Chef to Chef Conference and sharing stories is one thing. Seeing your peers in action while you visit one another is entirely different. It opens a window of opportunities to learn best practices and expand your skills.
  27. In clubs, I would like to see less “wanna be” and “think they are” chefs, and more proud cooks who are willing to burn the stages properly. You must go through the grind of becoming a great cook before you can become a great chef.
  28. My favorite book is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
  29. My favorite movie/TV show is “The Lion King.” I watched it 1,000 times with my kids when they were little, and I could still watch it another 1,000 times. I also enjoy “Shark Tank.”
  30. My favorite kitchen hack is using plastic wrap as lids for boiling pots. It prevents spills and accelerates cooking time, like a pressure cooker. Just be sure you punch a small hole in the center to release the pressure.
  31. I am inspired by mentoring and by passing the baton properly and intentionally to the next generation, to see them flourish. It invigorates me especially when they succeed beyond all expectations.

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