Chef de cuisine at Town Hall Al Fuentes opened up to me about the his culinary journey and revealed a chef so completely dedicated to his profession I never wanted the story to end.
Tell us about yourself?
I originally started cooking while in high school and college to help support the family. I worked for corporate facilities that I was not too thrilled about, but it taught me about speed and efficiencies. I lost my passion for cooking and left for a while. Then I started waiting tables at a local restaurant where I met the chef in charge and started cooking again. He showed me the artistic side of the job; he taught me how to care about the food I was serving. When he left, Chef Tom Gray asked me to stay on; I have been with him now for twelve years.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in California and Louisiana, mostly in Louisiana my grandparents were French Canadian, and when I lived there, I would spend the school year in the inner city and spend the summers on the farm.
What brought you to Jacksonville?
I came to Jacksonville when I was in high school; my mom had a job opportunity. After graduation, I started college and had a chance to move back to California with my mom, but I stayed, I like this city, the culture between the beaches and downtown-inspired me.
How about your culinary training?
No formal culinary training, when I started to work with Tom I thought I knew a lot but quickly found out I was wrong. His world was more about detail, knife cuts, and technique. It was challenging but worth every moment. Tom encouraged me to work with other chefs as well, to help grow my skills and develop my style, and I took his advice.
How would you explain your style of cooking?
I think my style is just fresh, that means cooking with the freshest ingredient available. I try not to get bogged down by putting parameters on things. My favorite thing to cook is the ones I don’t know how to cook. I like to take time each year and go to another city and see what is going on there, my goal is bringing it back to Jacksonville, staying up to date and fresh is important to me. So as far as my style let’s just say melting pot American.
Do you have a signature dish or a favorite dish you enjoy cooking?
As stated, my favorite dishes to cook are something I don’t know how to do; I am big on Asian flavors because I have not had much exposure to them. I also like to cook with our pastry chef, sugars and baking are my weak points. When people ask what’s my favorite dish at Town Hall, it would be the Roasted Chicken.
Tell us something about yourself people would be surprised to know.
I’m a big, guitar player.
Who is your “ideal customer”?
Probably the person I just can’t please. I tend to take over and make sure that they get everything they want.
If you were being executed tomorrow, what would be your last meal?
A simple turkey sandwich with avocado that my mom makes, I could eat this every day for the rest of my life.
Are you affected by reviews at all?
I love reviews; you get a lot of information from them. Everyone has their preference, so I don’t get my feelings hurt if they don’t like it.