How did you get your start in the restaurant business?

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I come from a family of 11, and nine of us are chefs. I grew up cooking, but I've only been in the restaurant biz for 16 years—really since I moved from San Francisco in '89 to help open Machiavelli on Capitol Hill.

Who's the best chef in the family?

My mother. She passed away three days ago.

I'm sorry to hear that. What dishes was she exceptionally good at that you'd like to preserve?

My mother was born in Guatemala. Her mother owned a tiny bistro somewhere in the hills, so she was raised to cook. She taught me how to marinate steaks, make carne asada, blend spices, and create incredible sauces and moles.

What entrées are you best known for?

My butternut-squash linguine, portobello raviolis, and spinach raviolis are served at Machiavelli.

Your specialty dishes are all Italian. How did you end up cooking in a Cajun restaurant?

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A couple of reasons: I love all foods—and I love the challenge of a new restaurant and new styles of cooking. Also, when I turned 21, I lived in Pioneer Square, and ever since I've always wanted to work in this neighborhood.

Interview by Cienna Madrid

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