Central chef taps roots to inspire future career
Seattle Culinary Academy alumnus Guillermo Carreño shares his Oaxacan heritage as a chef, mentor and future restaurant owner.
Oaxaca, Mexico is home to rugged, remote mountain ranges, rich indigenous culture and 2017 Seattle Culinary Academy graduate Guillermo Carreño. Though Guillermo left Mexico years ago, he shares his heritage, traditions and Oaxaca’s unique cuisine to Seattleites as a chef and future restaurant owner.
"I hated beans, but I love them now. They’re symbolic for me."
San Dionisio Ocotlán is a town of 1,000 people in the Oaxacan countryside. Guillermo’s family, like many in San Dionisio, struggled to make ends meet. As a child, Guillermo planted and processed corn and worked as the town messenger to help support his parents and four siblings. Since most homes did not have telephones, Guillermo delivered messages from the town’s single phone in exchange for a “few coins,” to buy food or school supplies.
Growing up, Guillermo worked, played soccer and attended school often with nothing more than beans to eat. On more fortunate days, his mother mixed beans with eggs or chorizo, a traditional pork sausage native to Spain and Portugal.
“We were lucky if we had one meal a day,” Guillermo said. “I hated beans, but I love them now. They’re symbolic for me.”
Rather than working full-time like many in San Dionisio, Guillermo attended high school, with plans to pursue civil engineering or architecture after graduation. Unable to afford the simple bus fare to high school, Guillermo understood that college was out of reach.
“You had to pay a bribe in order to get a spot or be a friend of someone at the college,” Guillermo said. “There was a lot of corruption and bribes were prioritized.”
"Hell no I didn't want to be a dishwasher."
Instead, Guillermo moved to Tijuana with a friend, but felt like a foreigner in his own country, citing the drastic differences in food, accent and his new city life. Guillermo reluctantly took a job as a dishwasher in an Italian restaurant, but inadvertently discovered a new passion for cooking.
“Hell no I didn’t want to be a dishwasher,” Guillermo said. “But I always found myself in the kitchen asking the cooks, ‘what are you doing’ or ‘why are you doing that?’”
Guillermo’s curiosity landed him a temporary position as a line cook. Given just one week, he had to cook, plate and present dozens of pasta-based dishes or else return to dish washing.
- Chef de cuisine
- Mentor & instructor
- Oaxacan native
- Seattle Central graduate
- Scholarship winner
- Future restaurant owner
“I got it in two days,” Guillermo said. “By then, I felt like I was in love with cooking.”
After working in Tijuana and returning home to Oaxaca to help start a small family restaurant, Guillermo moved to the United States. In Seattle, he landed a line cook position at Tom Douglas’s Lola and graduated to sous chef at Tulio, an upscale Italian restaurant. Guillermo was impressed with the atmosphere and the offerings, but felt like he needed more training.
“As the sous chef, line cooks were asking me ‘why are we preparing the dish like this’,” Guillermo said. “I had no answer and thought I was missing something.”
After a recommendation, Guillermo enrolled in Seattle Central’s Culinary Arts Academy in 2015, For two quarters, he managed 50-hour work weeks with shifts ending at 1 a.m., classes that started at 8 a.m. and little sleep in between. However, Guillermo was able to focus on his studies after earning five scholarships from Seattle Central’s Annual Scholarship fund.
“I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I was ambitious,” Guillermo said. “I thought about quitting the program, but the scholarships helped me out a lot. I feel really grateful.”
After finishing the program in 2017, Guillermo accepted a chef de cuisine position at Tulio, responsible for creating new dishes, pricing menus, ordering food deliveries, managing supplies and supervising a 20-person staff of line cooks and dish washers.
"I never valued my roots a lot, but the best memories I have of my childhood are ones about food."
Today, you’ll spot Guillermo at Seattle Central from time-to-time between shifts at Tulio, teaching culinary students how to prepare traditional Oaxacan dishes and acting as an instructor and mentor through the college's Continuing Education program.
“It’s great to be back. Seattle Central is like my second home,” Guillermo said. “I love to mentor and teach. It’s something I didn’t have as a cook.”
Whenever possible, Guillermo encourages aspiring chefs to enroll in Seattle Central’s Culinary Academy.
“Don’t think too much about it. Just do it,” Guillermo said. “Even in the first quarter, you’ll realize how great the program is. If I had to do it again, I would. It was life changing.”
In the near future, Guillermo plans to open a fine dining Oaxacan restaurant in Seattle, using traditional equipment, local seasonal and Oaxacan ingredients including corn, mole and chilis. Guillermo plans on creating a small, intimate restaurant where he can offer diners an experience as well as a meal.
“When you get into my restaurant, you will be in Oaxaca,” Guillermo said.
Guillermo plans to name the restaurant after his mother, citing her love, passion and creativity as his inspiration.
“I never valued my roots a lot, but the best memories I have of my childhood are ones about food,” Guillermo said. “I want to share that with others.”