"If you want to eat out for research, save your money and visit your grandma instead." ___Andres C.
Absolutely adorable, are the words I am thinking about when I walk into the crowded Cafe Esencia, owned by Andres Castello, located in Ridgewood, Queens. Right before you enter you can already see through the window, that customers were absorbed in enjoyment while they chatted away, ate their food, and were busy working on their tablets. Food that is prepared with freshly grown ingredients. All while listening to the Spanish songs, delicately dancing throughout the rustically designed restaurant. It felt almost like being in one of those little cafes deep in the old countryside of Paris or someplace like that. Well, all in my imagination or course. The big twist to the menu are the tasteful churros served with sauces, also known to be very popular with the locals on this side of town. Andre's also adds to the magic with his pleasant personality and welcoming smile. We truly felt the warmth. The design of the place is flowing,
with an open kitchen, wooden countertops, wooden tables and steel straws to boot. You surprisingly find yourself having a content moment. I'm sure you would agree to how great this place is and the owner matches it perfectly.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
Hello, my name is Andres Castello. I'm a first generation American from Spanish and Chilean parents. I grew up between Europe and the States, spending holidays visiting my family in Spain and Chile. We moved around about every two to three years, because of my dads job in team building. Moving around so much opened up a world of new flavors and cultures that I'm so grateful for discovering. This world has so much to offer and I love to connect with people and learn more of why they love their culture, especially if it involves trying food.
What do you remember about cooking as a child?
Some of my earliest memories are about food; I can still remember the first time I tried coconut at age three, it blew my mind away. As a child I wasn't allowed to cook much, for my parents feared I might burn the house down or cut something off. I must of read my first cook book, A Very Slightly Messy Manual from cover to cover a dozen times, imagining what it would be like to cook the recipes.
What made you want to become a chef and open a restaurant?
I was inspired by the feasts on both sides of my family. On my Dad's side, my Spanish grandparents would cook meals for the whole family almost every single day during the Easter, summer, and winter holidays. From classics like paella and gazpacho, to regional dishes like Bolas and Hervido, Spanish cuisine is so rich. On my Mom's side, at my Grandfather's and Uncle's homes we would enjoy rare Chilean treats like platters of oysters, sea urchin, choro zapatos, and centolla. I want to share the joy from these experiences.
Where or how did you learn your skill?
I learned by watching my mother cook in the kitchen, endless afternoons watching the Food Network, reading books and blogs, and by trial and error. It's a continuous process, where the more you learn, the more you realize how little you actually know.
Who are your favorite chefs, what makes them your favorite?
Though my list of favorite chefs is ever growing, I'd have to say my consistent favorites are Jamie Oliver, Yotam Ottolenghi, and Gordon Ramsay. I love how they can treat vegetables as the star of the meal, and Gordon's Ramsay's precision is always an inspiration.
Your food looks absolutely delicious every single time. Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you think you are connecting with the people?
Thank you, that's very sweet! My inspiration comes from two big sources; the team I work with every day and the changing seasonal produce. Everyone who works at Café Esencia has a passion for hospitality, it shows when customers wave into the kitchen and share their stories with us. It's also beautiful how nature provides us with what we need throughout the year; from the juicy sunshine of an orange in winter, to the cooling watermelon in the peak of the summer, moving with the seasons keep me inspired.
Who or what event would you love to cook for? Your dream experience.
I'd love to cook an outdoor dinner for my friends and family on a vineyard, somewhere by the water. Someday soon, I plan to make it happen.
What are your top 5 ingredients in cooking?
Coriander/Cilantro, Citrus, Oregano, Lamb, and Cayenne.
What advice would you give a younger person that is interested in becoming a chef?
Find your roots and follow your inspiration. I think there's much more wealth in traditional cooking than any fine dining restaurant can offer. If you want to eat out for research, save your money and visit your grandma instead.
Even though we know everything you cook is amazing, what’s your signature dish?
At home, my most requested dish is my chili. It's a simple recipe, but takes hours to cook down for it to be ready. Whenever I make it, I make sure to make plenty extra as it freezes well.
The famous Cafe Esencia Churro
What other talents do you have?
I wouldn't say I'm talented, but I'm passionate about growing food too. I'm hoping one day to harvest some fruit from my lemon and pomegranate tree
What is life to you?
That's an interesting question. I'm still figuring out. I do think life is a beautiful contradiction to be lived at its fullest, it involves love and heartbreak, has it's highs and lows and when you think you've figure it out, life crashes down on you.
Do you have anything coming up, that we should look out for or any future goals?
Yes, we're applying for our beer & wine license. If all goes well, and we get approved, look out for big changes to our menu.
What are your best customers like?
We love our neighborhood; Ridgewood is full of interesting characters and people have shown us a warm welcome. It's a pleasure serving food here because people are both curious and open-minded.
We loved this interview! Those 6 feet of churros are to die for! Thank you Andres! Thank you readers for passing by and reading, but please keep reading our stories and enjoying our website by subscribing and sending us feedback (click on the star). Also don't miss out on enjoying your own experience Cafe Esencia.
68-38 Forest Avenue
Ridgewood, NY 11385