Employee Highlight – James Capangpangan, General Manager at El Gaucho Tacoma

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Employee Spotlight with tags , , , , , , , on May 22, 2015 by The Gaucho Gridiron
James Capangpangan, or "PangPang" has been the El Gaucho Tacoma General Manager over three years.

James Capangpangan, or “PangPang” has been the El Gaucho Tacoma General Manager over three years.

“No one can pronounce my last name on first try, but once they hear it, they never forget it,” says James Capangpangan (Cuh-pang-pang-in), General Manager at El Gaucho Tacoma. In case you can’t say it, James thankfully also answers to “PangPang.”

James was born in San Francisco, which helps explain why he’s such a huge 49ers fan. “Yes, even when we were on an eight year losing streak,” he explains. “I was so confident in my Niners that I had placed a bet with my staff the year the Seahawks played the Niners to go to the Super Bowl. The buildup was great – the crew was so hyped up about the bet that even our guests started to get in on it – I even had some guests ask me not to touch their plates because they didn’t want me to jinx the game,” he recalls. “Needless to say I lost that bet, and I had to show up to our annual company crew party (held on Super Bowl Sunday), wearing a tiara, a homemade pink Seahawks jersey (courtesy of teammate Katy Faber), and a tutu!”

After losing a bet over his beloved San Francisco 49ers, he wore pink and a tutu to the annual company Super Bowl party.

After losing a bet over his beloved San Francisco 49ers, he wore pink and a tutu to the annual company Super Bowl party.

James moved to Washington state when he was 15 years old, and his career in the hospitality industry started at the age of 18, when he was hired as a busser at Salty’s at Redondo. Interested in management opportunities, he joined Stanley and Seafort’s, part of the Restaurants Unlimited group, as a server, and was promoted to manager when he was just 23. Palamino in Bellevue acquired him to restructure their bar system and support the Grand Opening relaunch of the Seattle Palamino in 2010. He started with El Gaucho Seattle as a cocktailer, and the following year was promoted to General Manager of El Gaucho Tacoma at the ripe age of 28, which he admits is his best professional accomplishment to date.

“El Gaucho taking a chance on a (then) 28 year old to become the General Manager of Tacoma has been a dream come true,” James says. “El Gaucho gave me the opportunity that I had been working toward for the previous ten years. I have been blessed since joining the Tacoma location over three years ago,” James says.

His secret mantra is, “By helping better the lives of those you surround yourself with, your life, too, will also be better,” which he recalls his pastor, Roger Archer, said years ago.

Joseph having fun with El Gaucho Tacoma teammates James, Jesus and Rufino.

James having fun with teammates Joseph, Jesus and Rufino.

James has another motto he lives by, which his dad told him every morning before dropping him off at school: “Study hard and play hard.” It’s plain to see James takes the “play hard” part seriously, since he is known at work to be a practical jokster with his team. He loves to play “scare cam” on his teammates, in which he whispers ‘scare cam’ into the camera then proceeds to scare the person, using a high-pitched yell, capturing it all on video. This inevitably leads to lots of laughter – another trait for which James is known. “My laugh is like a high-pitched, giggly cackle repeated over and over, depending on how funny the joke is,” he explains.

What might be little known, though, is that James likes to draw (mostly with charcoal), and that he’s a bit of a collector, specifically of watches, cologne and coins. “I’ve been a collector of watches since I was 14 when I received my first Citizen watch,” he explains. “I have dozens of bottles of cologne at home, and have a minimum of 2 bottles in my car.” His coin collection includes a role of pennies for almost every year since 1983, a roll of quarters for nearly all 50 states, as well as buffalo nickels and silver dollars. “If I like the coin, I save it!” he says.

James with his wife Ashley and daughters Kirsten and Emily

James with his wife Ashley and daughters Kirsten and Emily

Family is important to James. He and his wife Ashley will celebrate their 10 year anniversary this August. Ashley recently graduated with a masters, and is also a certified CPA. They have two daughters, Kirsten (11) and Emily (7). His family favorite pastime is dinner and a show, whether that be ballet, musical, or opera – they love it all! The family also enjoys food together, and recently experienced what they called a “Triple D” tour through Texas, driving over 1,000 miles and eating at Diners Drive-ins and Dives. “I only gained eight pounds from the trip,” he laughs.

"Midnight snack" is James' favorite annual tradition

“Midnight snack” is James’ favorite annual tradition

A favorite family food tradition is what he calls “midnight snack” held on Christmas Eve. They feast on everything from chicken wings to Filipino food. “To be able to spend time with the people who mean the most to me is everything. It’s a dinner I look forward to every year,” he explains.

That sense of family also ties over to his team at El Gaucho Tacoma. “The family culture here is strong,” he says. “We do a lot of team building activities, one of which includes what we call ‘family brunches’ to celebrate each other and what’s happening in our lives. The latest brunch was to celebrate new life for our Gaucho babies Amelia, Estella, and Avelina. We also have an annual Thanksgiving potluck,” he says.

James preparing  El Gaucho Tacoma's new tableside drink "Meat and Potatoes."

James preparing El Gaucho Tacoma’s new tableside drink “Meat and Potatoes.”

Meet James and his El Gaucho Tacoma family every night starting at 4pm. Happy Hour is offered in the bar all day Sunday-Thursday, and check out two smoked tableside drinks that El Gaucho Tacoma is showcasing.

Employee Highlight – Joseph Romero, “The Silent Storm”

Posted in Employee Spotlight with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2015 by The Gaucho Gridiron
Joseph Romero is one of the few El Gaucho Hospitality employees to work at all five properties.

Joseph Romero is one of the few El Gaucho Hospitality employees who has worked in all five properties.

“Although I have a soft approach, I annihilate any obstacles in my way,” which is how, Joseph Romero explains, he earned his nickname “The Silent Storm” along his abundant and productive career path.

And he’s not about to stop working through any challenge: since starting with the company as a server at El Gaucho Seattle in 2010, as of this Monday, when he begins a new role as Captain at AQUA by El Gaucho, he will be one of only a few El Gaucho Hospitality employees to work at all five properties. In addition to the two just mentioned, he has also served as Wine Captain at El Gaucho Tacoma and Bellevue, and most recently served as General Manager at El Gaucho Portland.

Joseph learned the value of hard work at a very young age, and has always been entrepreneurial. “Life taught me lessons early,” he explains. Born to a mother in the army, they moved frequently and he grew up all over Western Washington, from Everett to Tacoma, with two stints in the Philippines as well. When he was five, he bought a bag of seashells for a quarter, then sold them at school for a quarter each, making $5. That was his first taste of business success, and he continued honing his business acumen throughout his childhood. Two weeks after turning 16 years old, he started “legally” working at a local grocery store, where he was acknowledged with a quarterly “service first” award, selected by the management team. He was subsequently promoted to positions requiring a lot of responsibility for a high school student. Joseph managed to work up to 35 hours a week while attending high school honors classes, competing on the math team (which went to nationals for two years, placing 3rd and 5th place), and participating on the school’s 22-person cheer squad.

His sophomore year, a friend, Brian Slete (currently a server/captain at El Gaucho Seattle) started recruiting him to join on at Salty’s on Redondo as a server assistant. “He always had handfuls of cash, and here I was working for minimum wage at the grocery store,” Joseph explains. “He nagged me for almost two years to join him, and finally I interviewed and got the job.”

Joseph having fun with El Gaucho Tacoma teammates James, Jesus and Rufino.

Joseph having fun with El Gaucho Tacoma teammates James, Jesus and Rufino.

Joseph’s first day was Mother’s Day in 2000, and his story epitomizes how small the hospitality industry can be: “My trainer, Brent Marshall (currently a bartender at El Gaucho Seattle), was annoyed with me because I was constantly asking questions,” Joseph laughs. “I worked with Anne Marie Sturmer, before she married Chip. I bussed tables for Scott McDowell and Leann Stevens (all current El Gaucho employees). James Capangpangan (current General Manager at El Gaucho Tacoma) joined us the next summer as a server assistant. That September I decided to make a move, and Cooper Mills (current El Gaucho Seattle General Manager), then General Manager of Salty’s on Alki, hired me. There I worked with Tony Capra, Megan Walker, Oka Indra, Jeffrey Young, (again, all current El Gaucho employees). Most of them still remember me from the days I was their “server assistant.”

That was Joseph’s introduction to hospitality, and fortunately for us, he hasn’t looked back.

Joseph’s favorite part of working at El Gaucho is, “The people! The people we serve, the people we work with, and the people we lead,” he says. “It’s amazing to be a part of.”

Joseph and wife Janelle on their first date at El Gaucho Seattle in 2003.

Joseph and wife Janelle on their first date at El Gaucho Seattle in 2003.

Joseph loved El Gaucho long before he began working for the company: it’s where he fell in love with his wife, Janelle. In October 2003, at the ripe age of 20 years old, their first date was at El Gaucho Seattle. “Everything about that night was timeless,” Joseph recalls. “I had never experienced anything like it before. It was the nicest restaurant we both had been to, and we were enamored with the experience – and with each other,” he recalls. “Maik was our server (who still serves at El Gaucho Seattle today), and Daniel (Davison) was playing that night (still the pianist at El Gaucho Seattle). I requested he play, ‘It Had to be You.’ I will never forget how I felt that night,” he smiles.

Joseph’s greatest personal accomplishments include being a dad and husband, as well as a friend, brother, teacher and mentor. His professional accomplishments, he explains, don’t lie in numbers, but in the lives of the people he has worked with, learned from, taught, coached, and mentored. “People are the pride and joy of everything I have accomplished professionally, because without them, none of what I do or have done really matters,” he explains.

“I never imagined that my life would lead to this point,” he says. “I wasn’t supposed to make it the way I have, but I persevered and survived, and here I am.”

Joseph and his family, with wife Janelle and sons Jacen and JJ.

Joseph and his family, with wife Janelle and sons Jacen and JJ.

It’s safe to say that Joseph has thrived – not just survived. Watching “The Silent Storm” continue to annihilate his obstacles will be an inspiration to all who are fortunate to know him.

Stop by to say hello to Joseph and help us welcome him to the AQUA by El Gaucho team!

El Gaucho Bellevue Proudly Offers Glenmorangie’s “Pride 1978″ – the only bottle in the state

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Spirited with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2015 by The Gaucho Gridiron

“Whoever said laughter is the best medicine had clearly never tasted Scotch.” ~ Anne Taintor

The only bottle of Glenmorangie's Pride 1978 is at El Gaucho Bellevue

The only bottle of Glenmorangie’s Pride 1978 in Washington state is offered at El Gaucho Bellevue

If you happen to be looking for some great “medicine,” look no further than El Gaucho Bellevue. The only bottle of Glenmorangie Pride 1978 in the state just arrived and is beautifully resting on the glass shelf in the bar, waiting to be sampled.  This 34-year old single malt is the oldest and longest extra matured Glenmorangie: it’s aged for 19 years in American White Oak ex-bourbon barrels before maturing an additional 15 years in casks, formerly containing the legendary Bordeaux Premiere Cru Classe wine.  A rare and exclusive release, the 100 Baccarat crystal decanter is accompanied by a limited edition print by internationally renowned artist Idris Khan.  Khan’s technique of using densely layered images to give the illusion of one original painting echoes Glenmorangie’s well-made approach to creating Pride.  A 1.5 oz dram of Pride is offered for $525 at El Gaucho Bellevue. Of course, the lucky purchaser of the last shot receives the crystal decanter as well as the limited edition print.

The limited edition print is part of the Glenmorangie Pride 1978

The limited edition print is part of the Glenmorangie Pride 1978

With the arrival of Pride, our team received training and tasting from Jon Trainer, The West Region Brand Manager for Glenmorangie.  For 52 years straight, the original Glenmorangie has been voted Scotland’s favorite malt scotch.  There are currently 110 single malt distilleries in Scotland, so a track record that long makes quite a statement.

Before we began our tasting we revisited the basics.  Scotch can only be called scotch if it’s: made on Scottish soil; aged at least three years; is 40% alcohol by volume.  A single malt scotch must be made from 100% malted barley, which is the entire Glenmorangie portfolio. In contrast, blended whiskies are allowed to use other grains.

Glenmorangie is stylistically different from other whiskies for a couple of reasons.  First of all, their water is sourced from the Tarlogie Spring, which is rich in magnesium and calcium, resulting in its unique taste.  Additionally, Glenmorangie’s 100% copper stills are the tallest in Scotland, removing the sulfur and promoting a more pure flavor.  Lastly, a great deal of effort and care is taken in creating and sourcing the casks, which are only used two times, whereas most other distilleries’ are used an average of 5-6 times.

El Gaucho team tasting with Glenmorangie Single Malt Scotches

El Gaucho team tasting with Glenmorangie Single Malt Scotches

The team had the opportunity to taste 6 different scotches: original; 18 year; Lasanta; Quinta Ruban; Nectar D’or; Tusail.  The latter four are all extra-matured range scotches, while the Tusail is the 2015 private edition release.  Most of the differences come from the way the whisky is finished, which is in the type of cask.  For instance, the Lasanta is aged in sherry-finished barrels.  The Quinta Ruban is finished in Ruby Port barrels, and the Nectar D’Or is finished in sauternes casks. The Tusail difference is the use of winter varietal barley vs spring barley, and is finished in bourbon casks.  Glenmorangie has been the pioneer in finished whiskies and they continue to experiment with flavor profiles.  It’s amazing to experience how finishing in different casks changes the whisky.

El Gaucho Bellevue Spirits Captain Lonnie Anderson with Glenmorangie's John Trainer

El Gaucho Bellevue Spirits Captain Lonnie Anderson with Glenmorangie’s John Trainer

Interested in a little taste test of your own? El Gaucho Bellevue currently offers the Lasanta, Quinta Ruban, Nectar D’or, and Tusail on the menu.  And of course, let’s not forget the Pride 1978.

Our family of restaurants constantly works to bring our guests the best that the world has to offer.  An important component to accomplish this is through the continuing education, training and professional development of our employees.  We offer opportunities for all of our employees to further their knowledge so that they can continue to be a terrific resource for our guests.

Wine Feature of the Month – Spring Valley Vineyard

Posted in Featured Wine, Signature Events with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2015 by The Gaucho Gridiron

“The more I have learned about wine … the more I have realized that it weaves in with human history from its very beginning, as few, if any, other products do. Textiles, pottery, bread … there are other elements of daily use that we can also trace back to the Stone Age. Yet wine alone is charged with sacramental meaning, with healing powers; indeed with a life of its own.” ~Hugh Johnson.

Spring Valley Vineyards is rich in history and latticed with people and the surrounding terroir of the Walla Walla Valley.

Spring Valley Vineyards is rich in history and latticed with people and the surrounding terroir of the Walla Walla Valley.

Hugh Johnson’s observation of wine likewise explains Spring Valley Vineyard; rich in history, and latticed with people and the surrounding terroir of the Walla Walla Valley. An Indian name meaning “many waters,” Walla Walla has been fertile farmland for generations. The first recorded history in this area is the establishment of Fort Nez Pearce in 1818, now known as Fort Walla Walla. Uriah Corkrum started farming in the mid-1800s, and acquired land known as Spring Valley in 1910. Eighty years later, in 1993, Uriah’s grand-daughter and her husband, Shari and Dean Derby, planted grapes where wheat had been grown for decades.

Derby’s son, Devin, moved back to the ranch to manage the winery at Spring Valley in 1999. As founding winemaker, he made the first wine – URIAH, a Merlot-based red blend which debuted in 2001. He also designed the distinctive labels for Spring Valley’s wines –featuring old portraits from family members and their name for the wine, the labels convey their story and heritage.

In 2002, Serge Laville, a French winemaker, moved from France to become assistant winemaker under Devin. They both shared a winemaking philosophy of “listening to the vineyard” and making wine with minimal intervention, using only estate grown fruit from Spring Valley. Unfortunately, Devin was killed in a tragic car accident in 2004 and Serge took over as head winemaker, continuing the philosophy they both shared. “I learned winemaking in France,” says Serge, “but I learned how to make Washington wine from Devin.”

Spring Valley Frederick, a new-world-styled, fruit-driven Cabernet Sauvignon blend, is featured on all El Gaucho and AQUA by El Gaucho's menus for April.

Spring Valley Frederick, a new-world-styled, fruit-driven Cabernet Sauvignon blend, is featured on all El Gaucho and AQUA by El Gaucho’s menus for April.

Today, Spring Valley Vineyard consists of 111 acres, including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.

“One of the things I love about Spring Valley Vineyard is the similarity in our own story at El Gaucho,” says Jacob Lawrence, El Gaucho Tacoma’s Wine Captain. “They’re a family-owned business that continues to pass on the traditions and values it was founded on.”

Spring Valley Vineyard vertical in yello flowers

Three reasons to try Spring Valley Vineyard this month: Uriah, Frederick, and Nina Lee.

For the month of April, all El Gaucho locations, and AQUA by El Gaucho, are featuring Spring Valley Frederick, a new-world-styled, fruit-driven Cabernet Sauvignon blend, on the menu. The Frederick has received 92 points from Wine Spectator and 91 points from Wine Advocate.

El Gaucho Tacoma is also proudly featuring two others: the Nina Lee Syrah – a 100% Syrah, which has received 90 points from Wine Spectator and 92 points from Wine Advocate; and the Uriah, a Merlot blend named after Spring Valley’s grandfather, which was awarded 92 points from Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Spring Valley will also be pouring their award-winning wines at this year’s Legendary SWIRL at El Gaucho Seattle, Saturday May 16th, as well as hosting a wine dinner following SWIRL. Don’t miss the opportunity to join winemaker Serge Laville as he takes guests through each pairing and discusses the rich history and the Spring Valley wine-making process.

Celebrate spring and Spring Valley Vineyards wines with us this month. Cheers!

Culinary Feature of the Month – El Gaucho Seattle Executive Chef Matt Brandsey

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Employee Spotlight with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2015 by The Gaucho Gridiron

We are excited to feature the talented people behind the scenes – those who create and prepare the tasty treats that we all get to enjoy in our restaurants. Each month we will be introducing you to the gifted and passionate individuals who make up our culinary team. Bon Appétit!

El Gaucho Seattle Executive Chef Matt Brandsey

El Gaucho Seattle Executive Chef Matt Brandsey

Matt Brandsey, Executive Chef at El Gaucho Seattle

“From a very young age, I’ve always associated food with togetherness,” Matt says. “Both my mom and dad were really good cooks. My mom experimented a lot in the kitchen, and my dad was always manning the grill. He was also an avid hunter, so we always had some sort of wild game hanging around. When they cooked, the smells spread throughout the house. Although this was a huge influence in my culinary upbringing, I was never as excited about the food as I was about just being together.”

Matt grew up in Prior Lake, Minnesota, and received his culinary arts degree from Hennepin Technical School. After a few restaurant gigs, his brother encouraged him to apply for work on a cruise ship, and he landed a job at Cruise West in Seattle as a sous chef. For 18 months, he traveled up and down the west coast from Juneau, Alaska to Cabo, Mexico. This is where he met his wife, Tessa. They moved to Chicago, where Matt became the Executive Chef for Travelers Tavern Hospitality, and opened two of their three locations. He also worked with Rick Tramonto at TRU before moving back west.

Chef Matt Brandsey loves to share his culinary knowledge. Here, he's prepping for a beef class at a Taste Washington event.

Chef Matt Brandsey loves to share his culinary knowledge. Here, he’s prepping for a beef class at a Taste Washington event.

Even with his culinary training and years of experience under his belt, it wasn’t until his time at TRU that Matt realized that he wanted this to be his career for life. Training on the risotto-soup station, the sous chef handed Matt a spoonful of lobster and truffle risotto, and said, “This is how it should taste every time – no excuses.” Amidst all of the chaos in the kitchen, Matt’s taste buds came to life. “I’d never had anything like that before. From that point on, I knew I wanted to make food like that all of the time. That one dish completely changed who I was as a chef.”

With his move back west, he became head chef at Pour at Four, a wine bar in Tacoma, for three years, and then was recruited to Executive Chef of Sea Grill in Tacoma (formerly owned by El Gaucho Hospitality). From there he was transferred to sous chef at AQUA by El Gaucho, and eventually landed the Executive Chef position at El Gaucho Seattle.

Matt's kids - Tallulah and Finnegan

Matt’s kids – Tallulah and Finnegan

Though Matt has had many professional achievements, his proudest accomplishment, hands down, is being dad to 7-year-old Tallulah and 4-year-old Finnegan. He is also very proud of the new business he and his wife started together last year, Tallulah Nursery. Named after their 7-year-old daughter, who also inspired it, Tallulah is already supplying many area restaurants, landscapers, hotels and events with flowers and plants.

“My daughter and I were selling lemonade one summer and she grew frustrated with it,” Matt explains. “She’d say, ‘Selling lemonade is boring!’ So when I asked her what she’d like to do instead, she said sell flowers. I did some research, obtained the required licenses and permits, launched a website, and started planting. We initially started selling at farmer’s markets, and only 18 months later, we’re supplying many area businesses,” he says proudly.

Family photo: Matt with wife, Tessa, and kids.

Family photo: Matt with wife, Tessa, and kids.

For inspiration in the kitchen, Matt peruses cookbooks. “I’m really into David Chang’s Momofuko right now,” Matt explains. “Not necessarily for the recipes, but for the stories he has about launching his noodle bar in New York.”

When dining out, Matt looks for restaurants that have interesting food combinations. “It’s always inspiring to taste other chef’s food,” he says. If there’s foie gras or duck on the menu, he orders it.

Matt’s mantra is “execution is everything.” He’s also known for his calm demeanor. “If Gordon Ramsey was ying…I’d be yang,” he says (describing the hot-headed, celebrity British chef of Hell’s Kitchen fame). What he enjoys most about working at El Gaucho is his involvement with talented individuals and amazing ingredients every day. “It is truly world class in all aspects. I love that one of the foundations of the company is giving back to the community. Having the opportunity to serve lunch every month at the Union Gospel Mission, and being a part of their annual Catalyst dinner (fundraising event), is very meaningful.”

Matt with El Gaucho Seattle teammates serving lunch at Seattle's Union Gospel Mission.

Matt with El Gaucho Seattle teammates serving lunch at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission.

Want to learn more? Visit Chef Matt himself and try one of the delectable items he and his culinary team will create for you every night, at El Gaucho Seattle.

Employee Highlight – Cooper Mills, El Gaucho Seattle General Manager

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Employee Spotlight with tags , , , , , , , on March 30, 2015 by The Gaucho Gridiron
El Gaucho Seattle General Manager Cooper Mills

El Gaucho Seattle General Manager Cooper Mills

“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” is a slogan that El Gaucho Seattle General Manager Cooper Mills likes to quote. “That is true for me – I haven’t worked a day in eight years,” he chides, and quickly follows up with, “I’m living the dream!” (Another phrase he frequently exclaims).

To know Cooper is to love his razor-sharp wit and sense of humor.

A Missouri native, Cooper has worked in Seattle’s restaurant industry for over 20 years in many of the city’s iconic restaurants, such as Salty’s on Alki and Ivar’s Acres of Clams. Initially, the hospitality industry was not his calling – it was simply a job that allowed a flexible schedule to help pay the bills to get through college. While studying finance at the University of Washington, he was continually asked to take on bigger roles at the restaurants in which he worked.

Cooper is a UW Grad and fan. Pictured here with UW legend Jim Lambright.

Cooper is a UW Grad and fan. Pictured here with UW legend Jim Lambright.

After graduation, Cooper took an internship at Smith Barney. On his first day, he realized he’d go crazy behind a desk. “It was then I realized how much I loved the hospitality industry, and that was truly my passion,” he says. “Each day was different than the day before. I found it challenging to deliver an experience that was unique to each guest and that the experience of doing so fed my caretaker nature,” he explains.

When El Gaucho owner Paul Mackay met Cooper, he recognized his natural sense of hospitality, and recruited him to manage El Gaucho Seattle in 2007. Paul personally mentored him to learn El Gaucho’s history and philosophy regarding high standards of guest service.

Cooper's daughter Sophia. He started working for El Gaucho when Sophia was born.

Cooper’s daughter Sophia. He started working for El Gaucho when Sophia was born.

“It was at the same time my daughter Sophia was born, and I was a bit leery about starting a new job,” Cooper says. “The more I talked to Paul and Chad I knew I had to be a part of what they created and were about. I had worked for some great restaurants and great people, but never the two combined. So I made the leap!”

He has never looked back. His favorite part of working at El Gaucho is the people. “I have never been prouder to be associated with the people I am fortunate enough to work with every day,” he says. “I also love being a part of something that if we do it right, will outlive us all.”

Cooper cheering on the Hawks with work teammates Tony, Jimmy and Larry!

Cooper cheering on the Hawks with work teammates Tony, Jimmy and Larry!

Humor is also a big part of working at El Gaucho Seattle. “We laugh every day – a lot,” Cooper explains. “We also love scaring each other. The Michael Myers mask from Halloween movie had a great run – we got a solid eight months of scaring everyone with it,” he laughs, and also hints that another round of scaring is in the works.

While having fun is important to Cooper, so is honesty, integrity, and character. “My dad always told me to protect my good name and credit, because once you lose either with someone, you’re unlikely to get it back.”

Cooper with wife Rebecca

Cooper with wife Rebecca

When asked about his most important accomplishments, Cooper says trying to be a great father, son, brother, boss, employee and friend top his list. “Trying to be a good human being is the most important to me, but it’s always a work in progress,” he says.

In his free time, Cooper loves to golf, play tennis, camp, play catch with his Jack Russell, Sampson, and has started snow skiing again. When it’s sunny, he loves driving his 1974 VW “thing.” He also is a Husky Football fanatic, but his favorite is daddy-daughter dates with Sophia, what he calls, “poppapalooza.”

Cooper with El Gaucho Seattle Exec Chef Matt Brandsey kidding around and serving lunch at Seattle's Union Gospel Mission.

Cooper with El Gaucho Seattle Exec Chef Matt Brandsey kidding around and serving lunch at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission.

Which brings up his favorite meal ever, which happened to be with Sophia and his wife Rebecca, at El Gaucho Seattle in 2009. “Sophia was just sitting in her booster seat, and I remember thinking to myself that for her, this is just the beginning of many family dinners. What a great moment,” he recalls.

The most important aspect Cooper wants people to know about El Gaucho is, “We truly revel in celebrating lives,” he says, “with each other, our guests, and our community. Our company places a big emphasis on giving back through our time, resources, and talent. It’s a big part of what we do,” he says.

Revel (and laugh) with Cooper and his team at El Gaucho Seattle, every night starting at 4pm.

Cooper in his early days...growing up in Missouri.

Cooper in his early days…growing up in Missouri.

Culinary Feature – AQUA by El Gaucho Executive Chef Wes Hood

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Employee Spotlight with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2015 by The Gaucho Gridiron

We are excited to feature the talented people behind the scenes – those who create and prepare the tasty treats that we all get to enjoy in our restaurants. Each month we will be introducing you to the gifted and passionate individuals who make up our culinary team. Bon Appétit!

AQUA by El Gaucho Executive Chef Wes Hood

AQUA by El Gaucho Executive Chef Wes Hood

Wesley Del Hood III, Executive Chef at AQUA by El Gaucho

“No matter how much one learns about food…there is always so much more to learn,” says Wes, Executive Chef at AQUA. “I have been continually inspired by the people, the chaotic-urgency of the dinner rush, the sights and smells of fresh ingredients, and the ways that cuisine can be artfully displayed.”

Wes’ passion for food and cooking started in high school, when he began working as a dishwasher for a local restaurant at the age of 15. His dad would often tell him, “Whatever it is that you do, do it to the best of your ability. Don’t be a follower: if you and your friends are going to rob a bank, make sure you are the one planning and leading it.”

Wes frying up some delicious Penn Cove Mussels at AQUA by El Gaucho.

Wes frying up some delicious Penn Cove Mussels at AQUA by El Gaucho.

He took his dad’s advice to heart, and his work ethic and leadership were noticed: he was soon allowed to do everything in the kitchen –still attending high school – “because the chef was usually in jail,” he laughs. After moving to Seattle in 2000, he worked two full time jobs, for both Meridian Restaurant and Classic Catering. He worked through the ranks at Palisade restaurant until promoted to his first management position at Maggie Bluffs, and later at Scott’s Bar and Grill. His next adventures took him to Consolidated Restaurants as a Sous Chef for both Elliott’s Oyster House and Union Square Grill. When Union Square Grill closed its doors, Wes joined our AQUA team (at that time, Waterfront Seafood Grill), and assisted with the rebranding and transition to AQUA. In January 2012, he transferred to El Gaucho Bellevue as a Sous Chef, and in March of 2013, returned to AQUA. Shortly thereafter was promoted to Executive Chef.

Wes admits one of his favorite things about working at AQUA is, “Quality. We buy the absolute best ingredients available. The quality of the people – to find such a tight-knit group of passionate professionals is truly rare. And, the view and ambiance in our restaurants is world class.”

Wes' boys, Connor and Ethan, digging for clams at the beach.

Wes’ boys, Connor and Ethan, digging for clams at the beach.

Another favorite is cooking for the occasional, and special, wine dinners at AQUA. “Often they involve trying new techniques and have a heightened attention to detail,” he notes. His most exotic food? “Geoduck!” he exclaims. “It’s clean and pure clam flavor and tastes just like the ocean!”

Wes and his family enjoying a hike

Wes and his family enjoying the Pacific Northwest trails

When he’s not grilling up some Copper River Salmon or shucking oysters at AQUA, he loves barbequing at home for his family, and is never deterred by the weather. His favorite is a medium rare NY Steak, grilled over live coals. Wes also couldn’t live without coffee, and items you’ll always find in his pantry at home are quite varied: smokehouse almonds, wasabi peas, mae ploy (Thai sweet chili sauce), capers, and peanut butter.

Lately, he’s been experimenting with baking, and his current favorite is sourdough bread. “I am having a ton of fun learning more about baking,” he says. “I have a living levain at home and named it Monster,” he jokes. If you’re unfamiliar with what a “living levain” is, Wes explains: “it’s a starter you use to make bread. You don’t need to add any yeast to it as it pulls in natural yeast from its own environment. A levain also contains a good bacteria that gives bread a favorable sour flavor. To make it you just mix flour and water, leave it out to ferment and feed it periodically until it becomes very bubbly and active.”

Wes with his two boys, Connor and Ethan

Wes taking a break from the kitchen and joining his two boys, Connor and Ethan, for some dessert at AQUA.

His wife of 12 years, Elizabeth, and their two “brilliant and rambunctious boys,” Connor (7) and Ethan (5), are Wes’ pride and joy. “The highlight of my day is walking them to school every morning,” he says. Another favorite is playing Legos or wrestling with the boys, as well as solving puzzles like Sudoku, Cryptograms (“I’m a total nerd,” he says), and burning off steam by running. Lately, he’s been found watching episodes of “Criminal Minds” and Gordon Ramsay’s, “Kitchen Nightmares.”

Wes stays on top of food trends by searching his favorite internet cooking sites, and following Chefs Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulund, and Thomas Keller. “It’s inspiring to look at their work,” he explains.

Looking for a little gastronomy inspiration yourself? Then visit Wes and the AQUA team on Pier 70, every night, beginning at 4pm.

Wes with his culinary team at AQUA brunch, which will be served for Easter, Mother's Day and Father's Day this year.

Wes with his culinary team before AQUA’s Sunday brunch, which will be offered for Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day this year.

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