Antonio The Great
I wish my grandfathers were still alive to meet Antonio.
Both of my grandfathers came from poor rural backgrounds in the rebuilding South. They were smart, resourceful, lighthearted, and hard working. They went to war for their country against the Germans and Japanese, came back deservingly decorated, and used the resources from their service to go to college and get an education for themselves. They both became business owners and were successful while nurturing family, faith, and value. They weren’t perfect, but they were pretty close. Our collective family honors them regularly through story and the personal values we hold dear that they instilled in us.
Antonio is a man on the level with these pillars of my family. He is my right hand man and this is the story of how we came to meet.
When I met him for the first time as we began to clean up the filth, champagne bottles, and cocaine residue that was Geoffrey’s Café he quietly worked away beside myself, Molito, Paulus, and Sandy to clean out what was here and build something new. His work ethic was well established within a week of digging into the corners to get every bit of grease and dirt out before we reinstalled the stoves. There was no task he was unwilling to do in the quest we had to open in a professional kitchen. We worked constantly and tirelessly towards opening day. He showed me how good he was as a line cook when we opened to our friends and family and we cooked alongside each other for the first time in a storm of disorganization and while the other line cook I had hired decided not to show up. Day one, no call, no show, fuck it, no problem. He manhandled it. We continued to fight in the trenches of restaurant opening side by side and I leaned on him more and more through the chaos of The Father’s Day Massacre, our first Globe Review, Phantom Gourmet, and other horrifying, embarrassing shit that I put our team through. Remember the first beer dinner? Epic, right? Remember the 100 people that ate in the bar during that dinner? You wouldn’t, but I’ll never forget. Antonio cooked all their meals alone while mashing out the complicated dish that the other cooks couldn’t handle.
When the position of Sous Chef opened he wasn’t given it, he earned it. Every week more and more of him came out and the ability hidden inside showed. Leadership, creativity, accountability, all the characteristics of a great chef were expressed in his work. Still……quietly perfecting each of his tasks with analysis and constant improvement on his own accord. The growth was tremendous and the team found a colleague to surround and support as I pressed them all with more challenges. Each challenge I brought the members took with reserve, then looked to Antonio and saw him taking even more than them and continuing to succeed in the face of the new challenges. Lead by example. Never look back. The team gelled into a force. Things got a lot more fun.
Antonio came to America from El Salvador. A beautiful place, but a place marred with conflict and corruption. He wanted more from life than what he could get there so he made the journey to America. He is the threat that Trump fears. Not because he is a danger to anyone, but because he is the man Trump wishes he was. He came here with the desire to earn by learning and has continued to do that every day of his life. Every step he has taken through the adversity and racism Latinos face daily has just made him stronger and wiser as he quietly learned from chef after chef. His work ethic and skills were honed in the school that current Americans are unwilling to enroll in, dedication to a craft. The school of hard work.
When love peaked his interest he returned to El Salvador to court his sweetheart and then returned, again through the hard path of the Lobo that none reading this can even imagine, to the city where he had practiced his craft. He spent his entire savings to bring this woman he saw on a birthday party video from El Salvador to Boston to build a home with her. They worked hard and lived happily. Then he met me.
Every day I think of Bill Redd and Ed Gurley. They inspire me daily in their example from story, the work ethic and love they gave to my parents who passed it on to me, and the American lineage I feel responsible to continue. Antonio has the same examples in his life and is creating new ones for himself and his two children. His personality reminds me of my grandfathers and I am blessed to work with him all week, every week. His lineage is something I am so excited to see develop and be a part of. He is the America I believe in, invest in, and support with my blood, sweat, but no tears. There are no tears in this kitchen. Just respect, pats on the back of encouragement, and a lot of laughter. My grandfathers and Antonio would have it no other way.