ICE Alum Jessica Alferos on Year One at Spago
The grad from ICE's Los Angeles campus launched her culinary career at Wolfgang Puck's legendary flagship restaurant.
Born and raised in California, Jessica Alferos grew up helping her grandparents and father cook family meals. She earned a bachelor’s in business management at Alabama A&M University and enrolled at the Institute of Culinary Education in 2018.
What led you to culinary school?
I didn’t want a desk job but something that was exciting and kept me busy. I thought culinary school would help me get a good foundation to start in the culinary industry. (I knew a lot about food, but I didn’t know everything.) I wanted to start with very basic fundamentals of cooking to become a better cook. I really enjoyed culinary school, and I wish it had lasted longer!
How did food play a role in your upbringing?
My family is a cooking family; there was always a competition during family parties and holidays to see who had the best dishes. All of my grandparents were really great cooks and one of the main reasons I wanted to become a chef is because my grandpa was a chef in the Navy.
What did you learn at ICE?
There were many things I learned like terminology, new foods that I never worked with before and techniques I mastered, which made me a better cook. I also gained friends that share my interests and goals in life. I still hang out with some of my classmates. ICE gave me a very good foundation to start in the culinary world and the resources I needed to attain a career in the industry.
Why did you want to work at Spago?
I knew Spago Beverly Hills was one of many Wolfgang Puck fine-dining restaurants and one of the most iconic restaurants in the Los Angeles area. The restaurant has a reputation for its food and service, and I knew it would be a great place to start my culinary career.
I was working with Rebecca [Freeman], the director of career services, a lot to secure an externship early because I didn’t want to worry about finding one too late. I had an interview with the executive sous chef at Spago. After the interview, he gave me a job offer to start as a prep cook. After my externship, I stayed at Spago. I was promoted to a line cook, started at the pasta station and now I am on sauté station.
What is your day-to-day like?
Every day I set up my station with the tools I need such as hotel pans, sheet trays and racks, and a bain marie. I set up the sauté station and the grill station for the sous chef. I am in charge of plating the dishes for steak, hamburgers, liver, chicken and side veggies. The grill cooks the meats and I cook the sides for the main dishes like veggies and sauce for the steaks, mashed potatoes and mushrooms and sauce for the chicken, potatoes, bacon and sauces for the liver.
To set up my stations I need to have the sauces ready and reduced for service, the veggies blanched and ready to recook during fire and any garnishes for the plates. I also make sauce for the chicken and for the liver. I need to gather a lot of things for the station and prep out a lot so I have enough for service. After service, I clean up my station so the night [staff] can set up the station for what they need. If we are busy I usually help out and see if anyone needs help with their station.
What has been your biggest accomplishment at Spago?
I was asked to work for a private, off-site party for one of the richest people in the world. (I still don’t know who it was!) That, and a couple of chefs have said I will become a great chef one day. To hear that I am fit for this industry really means a lot, knowing I made the right decision to work in the culinary industry, and it pushes me harder to become better everyday.
What have you learned at Spago?
Every day there is something new to learn. I learned about ingredients that I have never worked with before, such as different types of mushrooms. I know how to cook better in a fast-paced environment and under tremendous pressure. I really value that the chefs stop and take the time to teach you if you haven’t done something before and to show you instead of telling what to do. It is a tough kitchen, but they take pride in what they serve and want the very best experience for our guests. I have learned a lot at Spago.
What does the future hold for you?
My goal is to have my own restaurant one day. I want to gain experience on how a kitchen works and to gain more knowledge of food to become a successful chef. As of right now, I don’t know what is next. Hopefully I will be ready to have my own restaurant in maybe seven to 10 years. I understand the process will be hard and it will take time to get there, some people do not understand that. I want to be patient with the process so I can be successful.
Schedule a campus tour to launch your culinary career in Los Angeles.