N.J. reality show chef wilts in the heat but bounces back
He's a talkative, outgoing and charismatic chef who specializes in Latin cuisine. He's also a veteran U.S. Marine who survived childhood in violence-ravaged Columbia and has several semi professional mixed martial arts bouts under his black belt. But he met his match in a food truck on a hot summer day in Arkansas.
Ronaldo Linares, who is chef at Martino's Cuban Restaurant in Somerville, N.J., suffered heat exhaustion and dehydration when he bit the dust on BBC America's recently broadcast reality show 'Chef Race: UK vs US'. The series followed eight American chefs and eight British chefs as they raced from Los Angeles to New York City - chasing a $100,000 grand prize. Weekly eliminations were based on performance in business and cooking challenges. Without money or other necessities, the chefs were forced to rely on resourcefulness, ingenuity and finesse as much as their cooking skills while making their way across the country.
In his final appearance on the show, midway through the ten episode series, Linares collapsed in the heat and was hospitalized. The next day he had to participate in a cook-off with another contestant to keep his place on the show. "I drank ten bottles of Gatorade in an attempt to re-hydrate myself," Linares recalled. "The Marine kicked in. I was chefin' on all cylinders."
"It was great to cook head-to-head against two great chefs and come up with a masterpiece of a dish," Linares said. He prepared corn flour dusted striped bass with a saute of corn and chorizo and raw oysters with dill oil. "As the bell signaling the end of cooking time sounded, I looked at my competitors dishes and thought I had a good chance of winning." Linares did survive that round but discovered it was only half the battle. A second elimination-round challenge was still to come.
"Pumped with adrenaline, I started chefin' once more," he said. He prepared smoked oysters with peach salad and chorizo and raw oyster with sage oil, but ultimately lost the challenge. "Initially I held my head high and took it on the chin," Linares said. "But during the exit interview tears rolled down my cheeks as I realized that a hundred thousand dollars just slipped through my hands."
"This experience really made me appreciate that being a chef is a gift," Linares said. "To be able to go anywhere, put the culinary hustle on, make money, find places to stay, and move your way from state to state is pretty cool if you ask me."
Linares says he gets his passion for food and his strong work ethic from his Columbian mother and Cuban father. The family fled drug-war ravaged Columbia for America when he was just 10. He grew up watching and learning from his father in the kitchen of their Somerville restaurant, Martino's, where he is now executive chef. "I believe my childhood taught me to work hard to achieve my goals in life," he said. His cooking uses the foundation of Latin food and he adds his owns flavors, resulting in a modern-style, healthy Latin cuisine.
Linares is not only a chef and entrepreneur but also a community service volunteer and motivational speaker. New professional opportunities have developed since his involvement with the series. "It's perfect example that when you believe and never take your eye off the prize anything is possible," he said.
Linares graduated from The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in Manhattan. He is an ambassador for Cooking Matters, a non-profit program for low-income families designed to improve eating habits, cooking skills budgeting and shopping. He also teaches a course called Ingredients for Life as part of a youth engagement program.
At his audition for Chef Race, Ronaldo Linares was asked by the show's producers to prepare a dish that represented himself on a plate. He made Roasted Sweet Plantain With Poblano Pepper Guava Sauce because, he says, it matches his sweet and spicy personality.
Here is the recipe and photo provided by Linares.
Servings: 3 servings
2 ripe plantains
1 poblano pepper, diced
1/4 cup guava, cubed
2/3 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup shallot, diced
1 garlic clove, diced
1/2 cup queso blanco (white cheese)
cilantro for garnish
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
Cut of the ends (tips) of the plantain, insert the tip of a paring knife and run it from top to bottom about 1/2 inch in. Wrap the plantains in foil. Place in oven for 20 minutes.
Wash poblano pepper, rub a little bit of oil on the outside and place on flame or in oven if you have an electric top until the outside is charred.
Once the pepper is done, place in a bowl and cover so steam can loosen the skin, then run under cold water to remove the char and dice.
In a small saucepan add stock, shallots, garlic, poblano pepper, guava and bring up to a rolling simmer. Cook until the paste is smooth.
At this point add rice vinegar, salt and pepper and whisk well to make sure you do not have any lumps in the sauce. Turn to low temperature for two minutes.
Pour the sauce in food processor or blender and blend until the sauce is smooth.
Once the plantains are done, remove the foil and cut into four equal pieces. Carefully split open the plantain where you made the cut to place filling. Add guava sauce and queso blanco and garnish with cilantro. Enjoy!
Jersey Bites is a collaborative website of food writers in New Jersey. They write about restaurants, recipes, food news, food products, events, hunger relief programs, and everything else that tickles their taste buds.
Martino's Cuban Restaurant in Somerville, N.J.