From Dishwasher to Entrepreneur: Gustavo Montes’ Journey to Success

Chef Gustavo Montes
FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmail
FacebookLinkedInTwitterPinterestEmail

Amidst Miami’s lively culinary scene, one Chef-Entrepreneur, Gustavo Montes, offers insights that go beyond the kitchen. “Stay away from drugs and alcohol, and don’t forget that you are a human being,” echoes Montes, offering profound advice that resonates long after the conversation ends.

In a world where stress is high, Montes advocates for a balanced work-life equation to avoid burnout. He challenges conventional notions of success, questioning whether accolades or the serene silence of a dining room hold greater significance in the culinary journey.  If you are ready to be inspired and find your next culinary mentor, read our exclusive interview with Chef Gustavo Montes.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the culinary world?

Chef Montes: Around age 4, I developed a profound interest, you know? It all started with my grandmother’s cooking. I vividly remember observing her for hours in the kitchen. It was incredible to witness how a few simple ingredients on the cutting board could transform into a delicious meal by the end of the day. Even before the days of the Food Network, I found myself glued to cooking shows featuring culinary legends like Julia Child and Graham Kerr. Back then, they were just folks sharing their kitchen skills on TV. There were no fancy productions, just pure passion for cooking. By the time I turned 15, I was already deeply immersed in the industry.

I began my journey as a Dishwasher and gradually worked my way up to my current position as a Corporate Chef. Throughout high school, I remained committed to pursuing my passion for cooking. I pursued culinary education after graduation, attending Le Cordon Bleu. Since then, I’ve never wavered from my path. Cooking has always been my calling ever since I was a kid.


How important is professional education in your line of work?

Chef Montes: Veteran Chefs back then didn’t put much stock in culinary education. There was this prevailing toxic mindset that working solely in restaurants was the only way to succeed. Back then, the reputation of the kitchen you worked in dictated your worth as a chef.

So, in the early days of my career, nobody paid attention to my culinary education. I’d get laughed at by fellow Cooks and shifts just because I was in culinary school. They thought it was a waste of time and money, insisting I wouldn’t learn anything.

But fast forward to 2024, and the scene has changed drastically. Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to land executive chef or sous chef roles without a culinary degree, especially here in Miami. It’s practically a requirement. I’ve personally witnessed this transition.

Culinary school exposed me to a new world of techniques and flavors that I wouldn’t have discovered as quickly otherwise. It offers immersion in various cuisines, unlike the limited creativity you might experience in one restaurant. Looking back, I’d recommend culinary education without hesitation. It’s been invaluable to my growth as a Chef.

My first recommendation would be to gain experience working in a restaurant. School tends to paint a much prettier picture of the industry than what it’s like in reality. You won’t always have access to the fanciest, newest equipment.

So, starting in a restaurant environment gives you a more accurate view of the industry. Seek out proper mentorship and look into scholarships. It’s not as glamorous as it appears on TV. Some kitchens produce fantastic food, but you’re often working in cramped spaces. Working in a restaurant is a different experience than being in school.


How do you approach creativity in the kitchen?

Chef Montes: Naturally, I’ve always been artistic. I enjoy drawing, painting, and listening to music. With food, it’s a bit hard to describe, but it feels more open to me. While painting is limited to 2D on a canvas, food offers a multilayered experience. It’s about texture, flavor, and presentation. Sometimes, inspiration strikes from overhearing a conversation or trying new flavors. Cooking for family and friends is like a full-on experiment for me. I might wing it and see what happens, and if it works, I’ll consider using it in a professional setting. Creativity also comes from accidental discoveries, like stumbling upon a faster cooking technique. Sometimes, I have ideas that I jot down or sketch out. It might seem chaotic, but that’s how my creative process flows.

Caviar serving by Chef Gustavo Montes
Image courtesy of Chef Gustavo Montes

What are the essential skills and qualities that you look for when hiring?

Chef Montes: First and foremost, punctuality is crucial. I can’t teach someone to be on time; it’s a personal trait. Knowing how to handle a knife or operate an oven won’t instill punctuality.

When evaluating candidates, I prioritize their attitude and willingness to learn over the skills listed on their resume.

It is easier to teach someone without prior skills how to cook than to retrain someone who’s already set in their ways. Those without experience tend to follow instructions more closely, whereas seasoned individuals may struggle to adapt.  That’s what I prioritize when hiring. Of course, there are times when specific skills are necessary, but overall, these are the top qualities I always look for in any candidate.


Do you see any emerging trends in the restaurant industry?

Chef Montes: Honestly, there’s always a trend, you know? It depends a lot on where you are. Take Miami, for instance. There’s this new thing where everyone wants to run a club and a restaurant together. Clubs are just more profitable compared to restaurants.

It is almost impossible to find a fancy restaurant in Miami that doesn’t turn into a nightclub in the middle of dinner. You’re having a conversation, and suddenly, the music starts blasting. It’s become the norm. People don’t get upset that they can’t talk anymore; they’re more concerned about getting up to the party because who cares about the food, right?

That’s one big trend going on. On the flip side, there’s also a lot of Michelin influence. Big-name chefs with three Michelin stars are starting to set up here. Especially after COVID, Miami has become a prime destination. Chefs from around the world are flocking here, realizing there’s a vibrant food scene beyond the club atmosphere. That’s gaining recognition and respect in the industry. Those would be the two biggest trends happening here locally.


Are prestigious awards something you aspire to attain, and if so, what role do they play in shaping your culinary journey?

Chef Montes: I never really feel like there’s a moment where I don’t want to create anymore, you know? I might get bored doing the same thing repeatedly, but I like to cook.

I don’t chase achievements, accolades, or critics’ reviews. Sure, it feels good to be recognized, but it’s not what drives me. I find more satisfaction in the silence of a dining room, where everyone’s focused on the food. That, to me, is a bigger achievement than being on TV or in the news.

Sure, recognition helps open doors and get attention from chefs, but what matters most is constantly pushing myself to improve. It’s about evolving and making each dish better than the last. That’s where the real achievement lies.


What role do mentorship and continuous learning play in a chef's career?

Chef Montes: Mentorship is crucial in the culinary industry. Forget fancy degrees or prestigious restaurants — the right mentor makes all the difference. It doesn’t have to be a head chef; anyone in the kitchen, even a dishwasher, can guide you.

A good mentor teaches you how to approach food, the industry, and the inevitable chaos of a high-volume kitchen. This is far more valuable than anything else.

I wouldn’t be where I am without the mentors in my career. Every chef starts young and makes mistakes. You learn from the burns, but it’s the mentor who teaches you how to avoid them in the first place.  They show you the little things – using a dry towel instead of a wet one, controlling oil temperature — that prevent mishaps. These are the things that truly matter. And let me tell you, being a mentor is incredibly rewarding. I’ve seen cooks I mentored becoming successful chefs, some even running multi-million-dollar operations. To me, that’s a far greater honor than any award. It’s about seeing someone you guided flourish, not about trophies or fame.


What final piece of advice would you give to young Chefs and job seekers in the restaurant industry?

Chef Montes: 23 years in, there’s no magic formula. You’ll make mistakes, that’s for sure. But here’s the real advice: follow your passion.

This industry demands long hours, hard work, and sacrifices on weekends and holidays. Once you accept that, there’s the physical grind. I used to survive on cigarettes and espresso, neglecting sleep and water.

We’re not robots, and self-care is crucial.

Hydration is a game-changer. Believe it or not, staying hydrated even helps you plan schedules faster. Finally, the most important tip: stay away from drugs and alcohol. The industry is filled with addiction, and it’s tough to escape. It might sound harsh, but you can’t treat yourself like that. Here’s the secret: if you can plan your workdays, you can plan your days off. The same skills apply to your personal life. You can’t be a chef without a life first. The danger is getting consumed by the constant pressure to be the best.

Find balance — no one will hand it to you. 


FacebookLinkedInTwitterPinterestEmail

As we conclude our exploration of Gustavo Montes’ culinary journey, one thing becomes clear: success isn’t just about accolades. Montes emphasizes the need for balance and appreciates the quiet moments amidst the hustle.

His story serves as a reminder that fulfillment in our work goes beyond awards. Montes encourages us to find joy in cooking and the connections made along the way.

About GM Culinary

GM Culinary, a brand under the established G&M Catering + Events, offers high-quality corporate dining solutions for discerning clients, all delivered by a passionate team that values work-life balance and a positive atmosphere.

Restaurant Salaries & Job Opportunities

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Restaurant Salaries & Job Opportunities

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.