Valley native Peter McQuaid developed an interest in cooking at a young age. He read cookbooks and experimented with dishes at home, but it wasn’t until he got a job working for Silvana Salcido Esparza at Barrio Urbano that his culinary talents emerged. Now 18-years-old, McQuaid is attending culinary school at the International Culinary Center in New York City. He won a scholarship with Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) and was a recipient of the prestigious 2015 James Beard Foundation’s Taste America scholarship. He’s back home in the Valley this week to participate in the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America tour Sept. 22-24. We caught up with him by phone last week.
How did you end up working with Silvana Salcido Esparza at Barrio Urbano?
I was doing a Spanish project through my school and (decided to) do food. I’d heard of Chef Silvana through newspapers and magazines, so I sent her an Instagram message and asked if there was any way I could come down and take some pictures and make a couple of dishes. She (said) “yeah, come on down.” I instantly fell in love with her. She was amazing.
How did you transition to The Sanctuary?
Silvana said I had done a lot of great things there, but she wanted me to experience something more because Mexican food wasn’t my passion. She said, “I want you to go somewhere where you can really excel.” She mentioned Beau Macmillan so I Facebook messaged him and asked if he had anything. I started working there two days a week and then, full time.
What’s your secret to success in the culinary world at such a young age?
I attribute a lot to my mentors Silvana and Chef Beau for pushing me in the right direction, but I also tend to put myself out there a lot. I’m not afraid to give someone a cold call. I like to market myself and show people what I can do. I think that’s important.
Where will you do your externship after graduation?
I’ve been talking to the chef at Jean-Georges here in New York City and I want to do my externship there.
What are your plans after culinary school?
I’m not sure if I want to stay in the city, but eventually I want to make my way back into the Valley, and when I do, I definitely want to open my own restaurant.
Why would you leave culinary-focused New York?
I think the food scene (in Phoenix) is getting so much better. There’s so much potential and in the next 10 years it could really be a culinary spot on the map. I want to be an influence in that and be a part of that rising culinary scene.
When you do come back, what kind of cuisine will you concentrate on?
I really like New American cuisine, but I also have a lot of Asian influences in my food.
What’s your biggest challenge in the kitchen?
Sometimes you have to get used to taking criticism. I’ve gotten used to it, of course, but it was something I didn’t expect at first. You just have to roll with what you’re told and always listen.
What’s one piece of kitchen equipment you couldn’t do without?
My tasting spoon, for sure. I think all you really need is a spoon and maybe a knife and you’re all set.
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