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NEXT IN LINE :: We Spoke to the Four Up-and-Coming Chefs Competing for $10,000 at Family Style

NEXT IN LINE :: We Spoke to the Four Up-and-Coming Chefs Competing for $10,000 at Family Style

By Duke London

This Sunday at Family Style Festival, our partners at Courvoisier are helping us launch Next In Line, an all new kind of cooking competition that shines the spotlight on the future stars of the LA food scene. While it’s the celebrity chefs and big names that get most of the pub, we wanted to focus on those behind the scenes, working in the kitchens perfecting their craft and preparing for their chance at the throne. Sunday is their first chance to grab glory and have their name heard by the masses.

We asked some of the best chefs in LA to nominate their most deserving line cook to compete in Next In Line, where they will create an original dish that tells their story, displays their talents in the kitchen, and wows our panel of celebrity judges and Family Style attendees alike.

Once the judges taste all of the competitors’ dishes, they will deliberate and decide on a winner before the Next In Line champion is announced on stage in front of everyone at Family Style Festival. The winner will take home a check for $10,000 and bragging rights in this city for an eternity.

Get your tickets to Family Style now to come watch the first Next In Line competition unfold (and try all of the dishes, duh).

The Next In Line competitors are:

Dina Cabrera, nominated by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Jon & Vinny’s
Dara Thang, nominated by Chef Jon Yao of Kato
Hannah Martin-Duarte, nominated by Chef Evan Funke of Felix Trattoria
Carlos Jaquez, nominated by Chef Tim Hollingsworth of Otium

We spoke with all four competitors to find out a little bit more about their journeys to Next In Line. Oh, and one more thing. We haven’t even told the competitors this yet. (Hi Dina, Carlos, Hannah, and Dara. Prepare to be shocked) The winner isn’t just taking home ten grand. Nike will also be flying out their Air Force 1 team to work directly with the winning chef on a brand new custom Air Force 1 at Nike’s LA Design Lab, as well as a Hedley & Bennett X Nike Apron. The Next In Line champ’s whole kitchen staff will get a pair of the shoes and the apron they design. I just got chills writing that. Also, I’m applying for jobs at all four restaurants so I can try to weasel a pair for myself.

Where did your culinary journey begin?
HANNAH MARTIN-DUARTE: Funny enough I started at Felix as a hostess. It’ll be two years ago in January. While I was doing a culinary program in Culver City, Chef (Evan Funke) found out that I really wanted to cook and I was interested so he gave me an opportunity to learn from him in the kitchen. The rest is history.

CARLOS JAQUEZ: My interest in the culinary world began when I was a child. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by food. Cooking (and eating) with family and friends was always something I enjoyed. The first professional kitchen I worked in was a brunch line at a small coffee shop called Xokolatl. Throughout high school, I worked at a restaurant called Graham and Papas, where I was introduced to The Hundreds, who made our uniforms at the time. By the time I graduated, I was working at Little Beast in Eagle Rock. Once Otium opened, I decided to further develop my career at a chef-driven restaurant. The three years I’ve spent at Otium have taught me a lot, not only in technique and skill but in finding a voice as a chef and using that to help my community.

DARA THANG: Actually, in this very restaurant. All of these tables here, Jon (Yao) and I actually came in and put it all together.

DINA CABRERA: My mom had a restaurant in El Salvador and ever since I was little, my brothers and sisters worked in my mother’s restaurant. Our restaurant was how we maintained and moved forward. Our pupuseria in El Salvador was one of the best. We had so many customers and it stayed very busy, supported by our family and friends that helped the pupuseria grow. Since then, I’ve enjoyed the kitchen because it made people happy when they ate. My start was with my family, our own business.

Why do you love making food for people?
CARLOS JAQUEZ: It’s the one thing that I really love to create and give to people. It’s something great that I have to offer. Being able to do that and exchange that and be able to socialize with people is sort of a rewarding feeling on its own.

DINA CABRERA: I feel like making food for people is making people happy. And if they’re happy, I’m happy, too. I try to make it great because I’m going to eat that food as well. If they’re going to like it, then I’m going to like it. I have to give my best to see their happy faces and to know I’m doing things right.

DARA THANG: The enjoyment, the smile it brings when you bring something to the table. It just feels warm and heartfelt.

HANNAH MARTIN-DUARTE: I think my love for cooking came from my mom and my grandma. My mom made me breakfast everyday before school. She made me lunch everyday and we always did family dinner. I think there are a lot of nostalgic vibes behind cooking for me and it’s something that I love sharing with other people.

What are your goals in the food world?
DINA CABRERA: To have my own restaurant, that’s one of my goals. It has always been to have a business like my mother did. To be like my mom, have my own business, be my own boss, and do what is necessary so that my restaurant is optimal and always the best. To never have complaints, to keep the people happy and content.

HANNAH MARTIN-DUARTE: I definitely envision myself having my own restaurant one day. Not sure when that’s going to happen but down the line that’s definitely the route I want to go.

DARA THANG: I haven’t made any plans, actually. I’m just going with the flow and trying to make Kato the best that it can be and do whatever I can to make it better every day.

CARLOS JAQUEZ: To further define and refine Mexican cooking in California and elevate the expectation of Mexican food and better represent the culture in a more modern way.

What does it mean to you to be nominated for Next In Line?
DARA THANG: It’s funny because I didn’t know about it until the very last moment. I was like, “oh okay thanks for the heads up!” [Laughs]

CARLOS JAQUEZ: To be nominated for Next In Line is really a big honor to me. It means to me that the chefs see potential in my work and they paid attention to what I’ve done here. They feel that I’m ready to really start putting my best foot forward which I’ll continue doing that and really start thinking of my own future in this industry.

HANNAH MARTIN-DUARTE: It’s a huge honor to me that Chef nominated me for Next In Line, especially since it’s so early in my cooking career. It shows that he really believes in me and that’s a really great feeling to have from my mentor.

DINA CABRERA: Wow! When Chef Jon told me, I don’t know, the emotions ranged between wanting to cry, smile, and yell. It’s an opportunity that not everyone has. I’m excited, very happy! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I have to take advantage of it. I got it and here I am.

What would you do with the winnings?
DINA CABRERA: The nomination already feels like a win. That’s already a prize. It’s not somebody else, it’s me. But if it’s in God’s plan for me to win the prize, I feel like it would be the initiation to start my own business and be the boss. We have to think of the future and think large, always.

DARA THANG: I haven’t even thought about it but I would probably would just throw it into my savings and take a vacation in the far, far future.

HANNAH MARTIN-DUARTE: I would probably buy a new bed first and foremost. [Laughs] Then, maybe save the rest and put it in a high yield account or something until I have enough money to take some time off, go on a nice trip.

CARLOS JAQUEZ: I would travel to Mexico and eat a lot of food. Pay some bills. Probably pay off all of my student loans and medical bills, any small things like that. Whatever I have left, I’d put it into my small business. I recently started a taco stand with my girlfriend and that will be something that would really help us establish ourselves.

Additional contributions by Hannah Smalls, Sandy Mosqueda, and Evan Shimazu

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