By Julie Ann Madden
The Akron community may remember him as the boy who worked along side his dad in the kitchen of Akron Jo’s Cafe or was serving a catered meal with his sisters and mom at local events.
But since 2010, Andres Arreola has been working as a chef for an international company called Levy Restaurants which provides sports and entertainment food.
If you’ve been to the Kentucky Derby, U.S. Open, a NASCAR racetrack, Omaha’s College Baseball World Series, the PGA tournament, or the 2013 Grammy Awards — you may have eaten some of Arreola’s food creations.
He credits his dad, Jose Arreola, with his ability to climb the culinary career ladder from kitchen supervisor to executive sous chef in just the last four years.
“It’s what my dad taught me: hard work, don’t be lazy,” said Arreola. “Everything I know I learned from him. How to be creative. Not be afraid of anything.”
“I’ve been trying to impress him (with my culinary skills),” said Arreola, who has spent his vacation in Akron the last few weeks.
“I’ll show him something and he’ll (acknowledge my idea), then suggest I ‘try it like this’ next time,’” he laughed. “Dad’s idea is always better.”
“Especially in this business, you’re never going to be on top, never be the best,” said Arreola. “You just have to be unique, be creative.”
Just ask him about his Donut Burger or Tornado creations.
In kitchen culinary hierarchy, the Executive Chef is the highest position. The person who makes all the big financial decisions such as for all food services at a stadium like TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha. This person is the “face” of the company and the kitchen.
Second in command is the Executive Sous Chef who develops recipes and calculates the preparation and production costs of each recipe.
Third in the chain of command is Sous Chef.
“This job is 80 percent paperwork, including ordering food for the whole building,” said Arreola. “Only 20 percent is in the kitchen making rounds, talking to supervisors to see how everything’s going, if time lines are being met.”
Arreola started with Levy Restaurants as a kitchen supervisor. He worked six weeks at the Las Vegas, Nev., Motor Speedway, then four weeks at the Texas Motor Speedway in Dallas.
The kitchen team created and served all the food for racetrack owner Brutton Smith and his 100 guests in his suite on race days.
The entrees included lamb chops, duck, hamburgers, hot dogs and risotto.
The menu varies every where you go, said Arreola, explaining a kitchen supervisor oversees the whole kitchen both hot and cold sides. At a NASCAR race, there is about 40 employees to supervise.
One of his most memorable moments was watching his friend, Mariano peel fruit. The cook, a You Tube sensation, is well-known for his ability to peel a pineapple in seven seconds. For a race, Mariano peels about 5 tons of fruit, then 10 people clean it out and cut it up for salads.
Arreola was promoted to Sous Chef with his first assignment being at the U.S Open in New York. He worked two months annually for this event.
At the Kentucky Derby, Arreola’s team was in charge of all food served.
For Derby Day, they began at midnight cooking 10,000 turkeys, followed by 7,000 Prime Ribs, 12,000 pounds of potatoes and 120,000 Derby pies plus prepared 5 tons of fruit.
All of the food has to be made and distributed to its serving area whether it’s a concession stand or suite, by 9 a.m.,” said Arreola. “The doors open at 10 a.m. and 100,000 people are wandering inside the old small building.”
It can be like the Hell’s Kitchen television show,” said Arreola. “It’s challenging.”
He worked with celebrity chefs like Masaharo Morimoto, David Burke, Eddie Matney and Roy Choi.
“They say they don’t know how we do it and it’s too crazy for them,” said Arreola. “It’s like Hell’s Kitchen but it’s real life.”
For instance, Arreola lost a box of Jumbalaya with 2,000 servings on Derby Day. He explained he and another Sous Chef had 15 “temporary runners” who distribute the food to certain levels of the facility. The runner never completed the delivery and they couldn’t find him.
“The boss wasn’t too happy,” he said. “We had to make Jumbalaya again for 2,000 people in one-half hour.”
Two days later Arreola received an email saying the chef had found the box — by its smell — in a hallway closet on a different level.
“We concentrate on the solution — not the problem,” said Arreola. “If something breaks or food is burned, let’s forget it and move on. Just try to improvise.”
“It’s kind of hard not to get mad but it’s not worth it,” he said. “When doing huge events, no event is going to be perfect.”
They also have fun during their long days in the kitchen.
Some of his fun moments include reading executive chefs’ menu for singing celebrities Jay Z and Beyonce and their guests. It read Fried Fish Legs, Hummingbird Tongue Tacos and Centipede Braised Thighs.
Although it was a joke, the corporate chef reprimanded them.
Another time, Arreola sent a college culinary student on the hunt for a “sesame seed splitter.” A joke that several chefs assisted with. Five hours later, the student reported he hadn’t found it and was handed a knife and a 2-oz. bottle of the tiny seeds to split.
Arreola also admitted once he had a student peel a pound of grapes for a vinaigrette.
“You have to make it fun,” said Arreola. “You’re there for 15 hours. If you don’t have fun, there’s something wrong with you.”
There are also the moments he won’t forget such as answering a man’s questions about the food in the buffet line and being thanked for the great food by an elderly lady. The first turned out to be the Prime Minister of Canada and the other the Queen of Spain.
Arreola’s met many celebrities and traveled the world with this job. Company policy prohibits employees from getting celebrities’ autographs or taking their photos.
“We treat them like normal people,” said Arreola. “Plus with that luxury, we give them respect.”
The celebrity he’s admired the most is Ron Turcotte, the jockey of the famous race horse, Secretariat, and the horse groomer, Eddit Sweat.
Turcotte, a paraplegic, was really humble and fun, said Arreola. “He didn’t act like he was a famous person. “I’ll never forget him.”
His kitchen teams have created food for several sports teams from the National Basketball League, National Hockey League, National Football League, and the Ryder Cup golfers to the U.S. Swim Team at the Olympics in London, England. He’s also cooked for First Lady Michelle Obama and her guests.
Arreola has been on two management teams which opened new facilities at the TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., and the Barclays Center in New York.
Recently, Arreola was promoted to Executive Sous Chef and has been assigned to work in Gabon, Africa, where Levy Restaurants is opening eight restaurants. They are a steak house, Asian, Chinese, French, Gabonese, Italian, Mexican and Spanish restaurants. Arreola will be the Executive Chef’s No. 2 person, assisting him in the Mexican restaurant.
His main job is to create the menu for the Mexican restaurant using the local foods available and honoring the African culture while maintaining the Mexican food flavor and presentation.
“It is challenging,” said Arreola who left Akron Monday. “It’s more math and science as quality and freshness is our No. 1 priority. We kind of have to pull out some miracles.”
Arreola will be Africa for two years.
“I’m working my way up to be Executive Chef,” he told The Akron Hometowner. “Hopefully some day I will have my own stadium — be the face of the company for that stadium and its team.”