Great Chefs of the TriCities
Photo: Brooke Lark, Media Bakery
Aliano’s, Chef Paul Flores
Where did you work before Aliano’s? I’ve worked all over this area. I’ve worked at the Mill Race Inn and the Riverwalk in late 80s, early 90s. I was a chef at Chord on Blues in St. Charles which stayed open until about 2008.
How long have you been a chef at Aliano’s? I’ve been here almost three years. I just rode my 10 speed past the place one day and came in for a beer. I’ve been here ever since.
Where do you live? I live in Aurora.
Do you have a family? I have five kids.
Is there a chef who influenced you? Jerry James is the man who got me started cooking. He was a chef at Riverwalk. I was 17 years old, not really educated as far as school and I told him I wanted to learn and he showed me everything. Give me a big piece of ice, I could carve you. I’m pretty good at ice carving. A lot of people go to school to learn that, I just opened a book and got a chisel and started jamming at it. But he was just a good guy.
What is your favorite menu item? Mine would be the Rigatoni Mama Mia. It has sausage and peppers and green peas, onions, mushrooms and tomato vodka sauce. It’s pretty good. It’s one of our best items on the menu.
What drives you crazy at work? Stupid people! For the most part I’m a mellow guy so nothing bothers me too much.
What do you love most about being a chef? Every day is different. I couldn’t see myself in a factory doing the same thing every day. One day you’re busy, one day you’re not. I’ve got a weight lifting set out back. Sometimes if we don’t have any tickets we go out there and do a couple sets. It’s fun. I go home and wonder, ‘why’s my arm tired?’
Do you have any cooking tips for the at home chef? Take your time and read your recipes correctly.
Any additional comments? Batavia is a great place. It’s a nice home town. We get a lot of regulars, so it’s nice that the area supports their neighborhood restaurants.
La ZaZa Trattoria, Jerry Serna
How long have you been a chef at Zaza’s? I’ve been a chef at this location for one year but I’ve been with Dino (Zaza’s owner) for 17 years. The first location I worked at was in West Dundee. Then they moved me to Sycamore where I worked for five or six years. After that I went to Addison for another 10 years.
Where are you from? I’m from Zacatecas, an old place in Mexico far away from the big cities. But back in 1991 when I first moved here from Mexico I lived in Mount Prospect.
When did you become a chef? I learned when I got here.
Where was the first place you worked? The Rusty Pelican in Arlington Heights. It’s not there anymore. I was a bus boy first, and then the kitchen caught my eye. I wanted to be in the kitchen at all costs, and that’s where I ended up.
Do you have a family? No, I’m 46 years old and single.
Do you have a favorite chef or someone who influenced you? No, actually. Why I really wanted to be a chef is because I love cooking … I just wanted to be a chef to be creative and do things on my own. I really didn’t have a role model when I first started working in the kitchen.
What’s your favorite menu item? The one I love the most is the white fish. The white fish is our number one seller.
What drives you crazy at work? When I can’t accomplish something. When a customer’s asking for something and I can’t do it, that drives me crazy. I like to please the customers, that’s my number one thing.
What do you love most about being a chef? Being creative. Trying to come up with new things every day. For example, when I was just getting my picture taken I took out ingredients and started putting a plate together. That might be my special for tonight.
Do you have any cooking tips for the at home chef? Don’t be afraid. In this restaurant I learned that a lot of people come here to have fish, and I have a feeling that people are afraid to cook fish at home. Don’t be afraid to cook fish. It’s safe. And don’t be afraid of seasoning. Salt and pepper are the most important things in a dish.