Carlos Rubio came to the United States at age 20 from his home in El Salvador to join his family in California. But the West Coast wasn’t for him, so he quickly decided to come to the Mid-Atlantic on the advice of a friend who was living and working in Ocean City for the summer. At the time, Rubio didn’t speak a word of English.
“When I came to Delaware, there weren’t a lot of Spanish guys,” recalled Rubio, now 35. “I hung out with American guys, so that’s how I learned English. I never went to school.”
Rubio has spent his entire 14 years in the U.S. working in the restaurant business. His first job was at Big Fish Grill in Rehoboth Beach, where he spent nine years. He started as a dishwasher but soon got moved into the kitchen, eventually becoming kitchen manager.
In 2011, Rubio took advantage of an opportunity to join famed Delaware restaurateur Matt Haley, at seafood house Catch 54 in Fenwick Island.
A few months later, an accidental kitchen fire burned the restaurant to the ground, so Rubio and other staffers were moved to other SoDel Concpets’ restaurants. Over the next three years, Rubio stayed with the organization mainly working along side Corporate Chef Doug Ruley at Bluecoast in Bethany.
Rubio briefly departed SoDel Concepts, working at another restaurant in Fenwick Island, but at this job found little work life balance which didn’t allow him enough time to spend with his 7-year-old son. A year later he came home to Catch 54, where he was promoted to head chef last spring.
The back-of-house crew starts their day at noon, prepping for dinner, “because we are so busy in the summertime,” Rubio says. “We do about 400 dinners a night. We come in early so that all of my kitchen guys are ready to go for service; this ensures everything runs smoothly when the customers are in the dining room.”
Over a skillet filled with sizzling Brussels sprouts and shallots, Rubio thinks out loud about his career. It was back at Big Fish where he learned to cook, in a large and busy restaurant with a simple menu. But under the tutelage of Haley (who died in 2014 from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident) and Chef Ronnie Burkle, Catch 54’s kitchen was where he learned to be a chef.
“This is a great company filled with great people — and I’ve learned so much. I’m so happy here,” he said.
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