Reata Restaurant officially promoted chef Juan Rodriguez to the position of executive chef this week. Rodriguez joined the restaurant two years ago as the number two chef on a team of five. All the while, management was grooming him for the top job and decided the time was right.
"About 30 seconds" is how long Rodriguez said it took him to accept the offer. He told NBCDFW the promotion came with a "pretty good pay raise," but more importantly he's working at a place he tried to get into five years ago.
"It's all about the food," he said. "Make this place more popular than what it is. I'm here to make people happy."
A Reata insider told NBCDFW Rodriguez is, "So cute -- and that smile is a knock out. People just absolutely love him." He also earns points, the source said, for being a team player.
"I don't wanna sound conceited," said Rodriguez, but "I'm humble. I don't go around thinking I'm a big shot chef."
Still he understands, chefs often rise to celebrity status and at 27, he's young to be the one calling the shots.
"I think I'm ready. I think everyone around me has kept me level-headed. "Keep your on head on straight.' I hear it from my parents, friends and at work." Rodriguez explained.
His traces his passion for food to a part time job at Steak and Ale at 17 and summers with his grandmothers in Monterrey, Mexico.
"I was amazed at how we'd go to the market, she'd pick up ingredients and made amazing food - soup, stew, barbacoa," remembered Rodriguez.
"I loved it because it was the only time we spent just us together. We talked and she told me about life. Her main thing was never depend on a woman. So she taught me how to cook, sew and do laundry."
Rodriguez graduated from the Fort Worth ISD's Western Hills High School then earned an associate's degree from The Art Institute of Dallas. He worked at local restaurants as a line cook, was a co-manager and executive chef Super Suppers in Cleburne then got back in the kitchen under two of the best in the cowboy cuisine business: Gerard Thompson at Rough Creek Lodge in Glen Rose and Tim Love at Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Fort Worth.
He was the morning sous chef for four months, then Love asked him open the New York City restaurant as his chef de cuisine. It made Rodriguez the lead guy when Love wasn't there.
Rodriguez anticipated the venture wouldn't last, so he started looking for a job back in Fort Worth. He saw an opening for Reata and jumped on it. He joined the team in March 2007. The next year, readers of the Fort Worth Weekly picked Rodriguez as Best Chef in 2008.
Rodriguez already brought the chipotle brownie, Grand Marnier cheesecake, lamb shank and jalapeno bacon macaroni to the Reata menu. And a few more changes could come.
"We're talking about bringing in prime meats. And I do want to add more fresh fish. Eddie V's is my favorite place, so that should tell you something."
He'll oversee five chefs, 30 cooks, two kitchens and the catering department. "It's a lot of pressure," he agreed. "I'm pretty knotted up right now, but when you love what you do, the pressure melts."
To make things easier, he moved into an apartment in downtown so he can be closer to work. He rides his bike to Reata and gets there at seven in the morning. More than 13 hours later, it's time to head home.
Rodriguez is single "but in a relationship, very happy." He used that same word to describe his life right now.
"Happy to be here, very happy, very excited. This is where I wanted to be at this age and shooting for, by my mid-30's, to have my own place."
Those who came before Rodriguez - Spears, Love and Olenjack - are proof it can happen.