Katherine Sacks: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Plinio Sandalio: As a little kid, my grandmother and my mom cooked all the time. They were passionate about what they were doing. But I wanted to learn and played around as a kid. One Christmas Eve, I wanted to make breakfast in bed for my parents and almost burned the house down. They woke up with smoke all around them and we figured maybe it was a good time to go to school.
KS: And how did you go from the fire extinguisher into kitchens?
PS: I went to a high school for engineering and got a full scholarship in upstate New York to be an engineer. At the same time, I was working at a cafeteria at the college and was dating a girl who was in school to become a pastry chef. Her homework and assignments seemed a lot more fun, and I started going to the bakery with her. Eventually I moved back to Houston and enrolled at the Art Institute.
KS: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
PS: I like to do something that is kind of familiar, I don’t want to do anything that is too extravagant or frou-frou. I like to play around with different flavor combinations, different textures, and different plating combinations. I just want the food to taste good.
KS: I know a lot of pastry chef who don’t like sugar. Do you like sweets?
PS: I do. I tend to go to restaurants and order desserts, see what other chefs are doing, and be inspired by other chefs as well.
KS: What are your top three tips for pastry success?
PS: 1. Know how to use a scale. 2. Master how to cook an egg; then play around with all the chemicals and other stuff. 3. Be very clean, especially with chocolate. I test cooks that come in by making them work with chocolate and seeing how dirty they get.
KS: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
PS: Go to restaurants and stage; jump around the kitchen and work as much as you can. A lot of techniques that savory guys use can become very beneficial. Try to learn as much as you can, make as many connections as you can, and never trash talk because this industry is really small.
KS: What are you most proud of?
PS: I’ve been doing something that’s a hobby and getting paid for it; it’s awesome. I love my job, love what I’m doing, and I’m really happy here. A lot of the guests and diners seem to be happy with what I am doing.
KS: What’s the biggest challenge facing your restaurant? What is the toughest things you’ve had to do in your career?
PS: Currently I am the pastry chef of a hotel [AT&T Executive Conference and Education Center], which is something I’ve never done. Learning how to work banquets for 1,000 plus people, and making the prep for a larger number, that’s a huge challenge.
KS: What’s next for you? Where will we find you in five years?
PS: I think getting homesick; I was born in South America, in Bolivia. I’ve been thinking of going back, perhaps to Argentina or Peru. I could do very American comfort foods there; I don’t think anyone’s done that yet.