Chef Finds Fulfillment
Working two jobs.
That’s not unusual. You may work two jobs. You may know someone who works two jobs.
But is that second job is at AT&T Stadium – home of the world-famous Dallas Cowboys – cooking for the rich and famous?
Now that’s unusual. It’s also the life of chef Israel Andrade.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday during football season – when the Cowboys have a home game – you can taste his work at L’Italiano Restaurant in Bossier City. From seafood linguini to veal Marsala, Andrade puts his heart and soul into every dish.
“I want to do it,” Andrade said. “I want to put my hands on it. I want people to enjoy it. When people call you to the table, and they say, “Thank you, that was amazing,” or they say, “Thank you, that reminded me of my Grandma in Italy,” I love that. I love that! Of course, they are surprised when they see a Mexican cooking Italian food!” But when L’Italiano closes late Wednesday night, Andrade heads across I-20 West toward Arlington, Texas. After just a few hours of sleep, he is in the AT&T Stadium kitchen. The rest of the week, Andrade is at his second job – preparing foods that will be served on Sunday to folks sitting in suites.
“It’s amazing, amazing, amazing,” Andrade said about pulling into his “office” on Thursday mornings. I can’t explain it. I even have a chill right now.”
The way Andrade sees it, he is living the American dream – a dream born in his hometown of Mexico City, Mexico.
Andrade loved football. “I played every single position, except for quarterback,” Andrade remembers. He also loved the Cowboys. Andrade watched them on television and had family in Texas –family who sent him Cowboys posters, caps, toys – the list goes on.
If it had “The Star” on it, Andrade had it.
“(The Cowboys) started growing and growing more and more in my heart,” Andrade said. “I just love them. Win, lose or tie, I’m with the Cowboys.”
But a kid from Mexico, making it to the United States and working for “America’s Team”?
It was a dream, all right. A dream Andrade had every night.
“I always dreamed one day I’m going to step on the star,” Andrade said of the team’s famous logo at the 50-yard line. “One day, I’m going to be there. Sometimes I even cried that I couldn’t be there and could only dream about it. Now, I can say I’m crying because I’m happy to be there. Finally, I did it! I did it!” (And for the record, yes, Andrade has literally stepped on the star.)
And Andrade “did it” with a lot of work – and help from a lot of people. He came to the United States – legally – when he was just 17 years old. Not so much because he wanted to, but because he had to.
“Daddy lost his job. Momma lost her job. I couldn’t go to school anymore – they (his parents) could not pay for it. I had three brothers behind me. So, I had to leave. I had to leave my country and come here and work for a better life, and to help the ones I left behind.”
Andrade spent those first few years doing everything from cooking to construction. In 1996, he got his first big break – at L’Italiano.
“I started as a dishwasher and as a helper in the kitchen. I loved it. I was watching everyone cooking, and I started asking questions. I just loved it.”
But Andrade wanted to do more. “If you want to succeed and progress, you don’t want to stop in one place. You need to put your hands on it, and if you like it, do it.”
So, he worked his way up to sous chef. But in early 2010, because of laws related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Andrade had to leave the U.S. He was told he could come back in a few days.
Those “few days” turned into almost a year.
When he was allowed to return in late December – “that was my Christmas present” – his job at L’italiano was gone. He would eventually find his way back to the restaurant, but he needed work. So, he “played around on the computer,” looking to see if his lifelong favorite team might be hiring.
Sure enough, they were, and Andrade sent his resume’, which mentioned his love for the Cowboys.
“I remember what the head chef said:
‘You know, I like what I see, but you’re going to come to work. You’re not going to come and see the game.’” Andrade admits that he gets to sneak a few peeks at the action on the field, but just being in the stadium on gameday – doing what he loves – is more than enough.
“I love it. I love it. It’s a dream come true.”
The American dream.