Juan Romero is chef and part owner of Duo in Kingston. Originally from New Mexico, Juan moved to New York when he was 12. He moved to the Hudson Valley 12 years ago, and to Saugerties four years ago. He ran the kitchen at Love Bites Cafe on Partition St. from 2007-11.
How did you become interested in food?
I grew up in a very culinary household, and from a very early age my mom let me cook and bake. I remember for my birthday my grandmother would make my favorite meal; it was always cheese soufflé.
What kind of training have you had for your profession?
I went to Vassar where I studied biology and I studied psychology at New Paltz, both of which I can use as a chef, but, in terms of cooking, I’m self-taught. I worked with some really good chefs and in some really good restaurants. Some of the best chefs I have known have no formal training.
What do you like best about being a chef?
My reward is really seeing satisfied customers. I get such gratification from the satisfaction people express after eating something they’ve really enjoyed. I love coming to the table to meet the diners. It’s like creating a piece of art, an ephemeral piece of art.
What is the toughest part of the work?
It’s the inability to have any social or family life. One of the first chefs I worked for asked me if I wanted to someday have a wife and children. I said I thought most people did, and he responded by saying I should walk out the door then, because it’s not possible to do both. I work ten and 12-hour days. Sometimes on a weekend I’ll work a 16-hour day. I would say that it’s more than work; it’s the life that comes with being a chef. It’s more than work; it’s your heart and soul. It’s not impossible, but it’s very difficult juggling both home and work life when work is the biggest part of your life. I think you have to have a really understanding partner.
What is your most memorable experience in this business?
I have to say it was when I was put in charge of the Phoenix restaurant in Mount Tremper. I was originally hired to run the Phoenix restaurant but I stepped down to work under Ross Fraser, who became one of the biggest influences in my cooking career; his mentor was Gordon Ramsey. Experience is really the only way to learn this business.
How is the money?
If you’re doing it for the money, you shouldn’t be doing it. That’s not to say you don’t make money. If you work hard enough, and long enough, if you have faith in what you are creating, the money will come.