Chef’s Special – Melvin Urrutia
815 King Street
Old Town Alexandria
My name is Melvin Urrutia, and I came to the United States at the age of 14. I attended and graduated from TC Williams High School. I worked for a lot of excellent restaurants like Bibiana Osteria, where I mastered and fell in love with traditional Italian food. I also worked for top Chef Mike Isabella who owned Grafiato and Kapnos. At the age of 18, I was the sous chef for Al Copeland’s Cajun restaurant “Copeland’s” in Alexandria and I became a master sushi chef 8 years ago.
When did you first become interested in cooking? Why did you decide to pursue a culinary career?
I grew up in El Salvador and at the age of 10 decided to do my own cooking. It is not common for men to do the cooking in my home country but for some reason I wouldn’t eat what my sisters or cousins would cook. I figured out ways to do my own cooking better. At 15, I was working as a dish washer at Ramparts, when the chef asked me if I wanted to cook, I smiled and said, “Yes.” From that moment on I realized that this was going to be my career.
Who have been the biggest inspirations for your career?
I have to say my grandmother. She taught me the value of cooking, how to appreciate an everyday meal, and she taught me how to make excellent tamales. My other inspiration is Chef Nick Stefanelli, who is the executive chef at Bibiana in Washington, D.C.. With him I learned that no matter what it is, it’s always how you cook it and how you present it.
Dish on the menu you are most curious to see how it’s received?
One of my very original recipes – Spicy Tuna Tostadas. They are so different than any other seafood dish.
What do you do to insure the quality of the food going out to customers is of high quality?
Making sure that I’m getting the freshest and the finest of products. Also working constantly with my team to insure that the consistency is always there. In the end, my goal is having you leave the restaurant with a smile and something memorable that will make you come back and eat my food again.
If any chef in the world could prepare you a meal, who would it, be?
Chef Mike Voltaggio. I admire how he puts together different ingredients from different cuisines without losing it’s originality. Voltaggio is the winner of the sixth season of Top Chef, Bravo’s cooking competition reality show, where he competed with his brother, Bryan Voltaggio.
What’s your guilty food pleasure?
Eating different types of food from different countries and finding out their traditions.
Written by: Chester Simpson