‘LLERO: Why did you decide to pursue cooking professionally?
Ronaldo: I was born in the kitchen. My mom and dad are chefs. They had a restaurant in Colombia when we lived there. I find a comfort in food I can’t explain. The joy that I get from seeing people consuming my art is unexplainable. I worked at restaurants about 10 years before taking over my family’s restaurant. I’ve done pop up restaurants and dinners to keep myself sharp.
‘LL: You were a sergeant in the Marines and a food services specialist who fed thousands of people a day. How did that help you find your cooking style?
Ronaldo: I started experimenting to see what would work. I was traveling around the country and learning these techniques but also adding my own flavor, my own style. I was mixing Mexican with Cuban and different countries. It’s the same food with different touches. That’s how I did it. I found it and owned it, learned not to be apologetic for it. It’s my food and this is my take on it. There’s nothing authentic about any cuisine except the first time it was made. Food is an interpretation of the person who made it. If you are using or respecting the flavors of the dish then it’s authentic.
Food is an interpretation of the person who made it. If you are using or respecting the flavors of the dish then it’s authentic. I found it and owned it, learned not to be apologetic for it.
‘LL: Do people think you can’t make Latino food healthy?
Ronaldo: I get resistance to it all the time. La gente que no saben…they’re absolutely wrong. You should learn about your ancestors. Frying and all that—it’s an American thing. If you look at Peru and Colombia and Puerto Rico there’s a lot of cooking on wood, roasting, brazing that creates natural flavors. And the peoples overall health is better. Once you educate people and they try it, their minds change. I come in and tell it how it is. Dieticians give you the numbers. But parents ask me, ‘How can we get kids to eat healthy?’ Well, that starts with you dad, and you mom. If they see you [their parents] eating better, it becomes a lifelong habit.
‘LL: What attracted you to healthy cooking?
Ronaldo: We [my four brothers and parents] came to the U.S. from Colombia when I was nine years old. When we moved here my parents were working all the time. We’d go to school and then I’d come home and make rice with ham and sazon. I’d always go to Burger King. We assimilated to American life, eating fast food all that stuff. Personally, I got so fat as a kid. So I started exercising. At that age I was doing it for the girls. Time passed, and my eating became a bad habit that continued to adulthood. Eating good now helps me maintain my lifestyle. I share it because educating people is important.
‘LL: You are a chef who takes his own health pretty seriously—you’re a former MMA fighter and Crossfit trainer. Why is it so important?
Ronaldo: Exercise is medicine. I do it so I can do the rest of my life – the restaurant, my family, everything else — consistently. If you’re not physically fit, not mentally and emotionally fit it’s tough.
‘LL: What’s your advice to someone who wants to become a chef?
Ronaldo: Know what you’re getting yourself into. Know how that feels inside and out. Work at a restaurant and spend Friday and Saturday creating your recipes and craft your vision. Oh and know your social media game.
‘LL: Speaking of social media, you’ve become an influencer thanks to everything you share online. Why do it instead of being a traditional chef who runs a restaurant?
Ronaldo: It’s the competitive nature in me. I love to push myself. And I know I can help so many people out. It could motivate and inspire people to create their own voice in life. I use what I do as a vessel to drink from and succeed. [Social media] has allowed me to connect and succeed. It shows me what works and what doesn’t work. You maneuver on a constant basis. It’s marketing yourself, your brand and your voice.