From Doctor to Chef: How ICC Grad Oscar Barrera Followed His Passion
Oscar Barrera wasn’t always a chef—before he followed his passion for the kitchen, he was a medical resident studying to become a doctor in Chile. After realizing that food was his true calling, he competed on MasterChef Chile and worked with The World’s 50 Best Restaurants organization. It was through these experiences that Oscar desired to develop his skills in the kitchen—leading him to enroll in the International Culinary Center’s Professional Culinary Arts program in 2017!
Chef Barrera recently returned to his alma mater to showcase the flavors of Chile and the diversity of his home country. In the demonstration, we tasted three different dishes including Rica-Rica Meringues with lime curd and desert rose petals; Charquicán, Sopaipillas and Pebre—or potato, pumpkin and meat stew with fried pumpkin bread and pico de gallo; and finally Paila Marina—or fish and shellfish soup. But before we tasted the vast cuisines of Chile, we sat down with Chef Barrera to talk life after ICC, what it’s like to open your own restaurant and more. Check out our interview with him below!
What made you decide to attend culinary school and pursue a new career as a Chef after your profession as a Doctor?
I decided to follow the culinary path because it’s my passion—basically, that’s the main reason. I discovered throughout the years that I wanted to cook, so I finished medical school and came to New York, my favorite city, to study at the best school possible.
Why did you choose to travel internationally and enroll at ICC in NYC to receive your culinary education?
When I was very little, I used to stay up late watching re-runs of TV shows with New York in it. I came to New York for the first time when I was 14 and fell in love with the city. Because of a friend, I knew about ICC, so I came to visit and knew that it was the place for me.
How did you get your start in the Culinary Industry?
Around the time that I realized I wanted to be a chef, I was still studying in medical school. Every day, I would go to school, then the gym, and I would run on the treadmill and study medicine so that I could go home after and focus on cooking. My goal was to cook a new dish each day and post it on Instagram, and this caught the attention of The World’s 50 Best organization. They had a food competition where amateurs could submit pictures, recipes and videos of dishes that they were cooking, and I won the competition! The prize was going to one of the awards ceremonies of The World’s 50 Best, and I kept in contact with them afterwards. I ended up working for the organization and created content for them and took over their social media, so that was really my first taste into the culinary world.
What was your experience like competing on MasterChef Chile?
It was very fun to compete, but after all, it’s a reality show with cooking. So, you learn some things and it’s fun, but I did it because I was an amateur cook at the time and wanted to take every opportunity that I could. I don’t regret it at all—I had the desire to be a chef before I was on the show, and I had already decided to pursue a culinary career, so the show was really a turning point for me.
Where did you find your passion for educating people about Chilean flavors and ingredients?
Chilean food and ingredients were not really known until recently—we had this big breakout where it got popular about 10 years ago. We have great chefs [from Chile] working around the world, like Victoria Blamey who is the Executive Chef of Gotham Bar and Grill in NYC, but still, the world wasn’t really seeing Chilean cuisine. Since I had gotten visibility from The World’s 50 Best and MasterChef, and after becoming a professional chef, I realized there was a possibility for me to showcase the flavors of my country.
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs who are hoping to change careers?
If you’re thinking about changing careers and getting into the culinary world, the most important thing is that it must be your passion. It’s hard work and you work long hours, so you really have to make sure that it’s what you want to do. Follow your dreams—it sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Don’t just be a cook—give your career a twist and use your previous career as an advantage.
What are some of the projects you are working on right now?
I’m very excited to launch my own brand RAM. It’s a restaurant, but not just in one place. It’s inspired by NYC’s culture, as well as global issues like eating healthy. So I’m excited to combine my past career as a doctor into my new career. I’m also a teacher in Chile, and I teach different things like nutrition and fermentation, and I do a lot of research on dairy and food philosophy. Finally, next year, I’m taking part in the biggest food festival in South America, The Ñam Food Festival. Different chefs and people in related professions gather from around the world to do talks and find solutions for food issues in Chile!
Could you have imagined you would be sharing your expertise and knowledge back at your alma mater only 3 years after graduating? What is it like to come full circle?
After I graduated, I went back to Chile and decided to follow my dreams. It’s amazing to think about all that has happened in 3 years. It’s not really about being in the right place at the right moment—it’s much more about taking every opportunity. I’m no longer working in a restaurant, so working independently has made me more aware of the business aspect of things and taking chances. You fail thousands of times, but there’s always a success that will come and you have to take those chances. ICC gave me a lot, so being here only a few years after graduation is a dream come true. This is a way for me to give back to the school and the students.
This blog post was originally published by the International Culinary Center (ICC), founded as The French Culinary Institute (FCI). In 2020, ICE and ICC came together on one strong and dynamic national platform at ICE's campuses in New York City and Los Angeles. Explore your culinary education where the legacy lives on.