Chef Art Estrada's Work Experience Australia

Art EstradaArt Estrada is a young chef with a big and engaging personality. His enthusiasm and laughter is contagious and as we interview him, we can’t help laughing and joining in on his merriment and joy for all things baking.

Estrada recalls that his favorite thing to do whilst growing up was baking. Unlike other boys his age, he wasn’t found outside making mud pies, instead he was often discovered in the kitchen making a mess with bowls of sugar and flour.

His zealousness for baking spilled over to his elementary classrooms as well. When his teachers would ask students to bring snacks to school parties, Estrada would volunteer his parents to bring cakes, cookies, pies and cupcakes. His mother would have him call his teachers and say “we’re just bringing cupcakes this time.”

It wasn’t until many years later that his grandmother reminded him of his passion for cooking. He’d set out on a different career path and wasn’t finding the joy that he was seeking. After his grandmother’s gentle and very welcome reminder, he enrolled in the Art Institute of Las Vegas, where he rekindled his passion for baking. Estrada excelled in his classes and when the career services director at his college recommended the Alliance Abroad Group culinary opportunity in Australia, Estrada thought it would be the perfect opportunity to travel and hone his skills in a new environment.

Estrada’s advice to other participants who may do the program is to “go into it with an open mind and be ready to learn. Let your guard down. If you go into it with your guard up you will not learn and you will not be happy. I’ve added to my resume and I’ve also added friends to my life.”

What follows is our Q&A sessions with Estrada, where he shares what he learned in Australia and also shares advice for aspiring AAG Aussie participants.

AAG: How did you hear about the Alliance Abroad Group Aussie program and what made you sign up for the program?

Chef Art:
The career services person at my college told me about the opportunity with AAG. She said that it would look good on my resume and that I could get a lot of experience while traveling the world. So, I thought to myself, “I’m young, I have no responsibilities, and my lease is up! Why not just go across the world?” I felt like nothing was here for me and in the U.S., so, I wanted to travel somewhere and have fun.

AAG: What was your experience with AAG and getting to Australia to work? Was it seamless or challenging?

Chef Art: The most challenging part of everything was the interview process because we’re both on different time zones. Getting in contact with the interviewers and getting my references to check in with the people in Australia was one of the most challenging things because with .au at the end of emails in Australia, all my friends’ emails went to spam. But, I got my visa in like, two second, which is unheard of. It did feel like it took a long time to get an interview and that the waiting process was long but then after that after two weeks I was on. Things went more quickly.

AAG: You mentioned that you were able to pay for your parents to visit you in Australia. How did it feel to have your parents visit you abroad?

Chef Art: I could have never done that if I lived in the U.S. We had double deck bus rides, went to dinner and the zoo and I was able to pay for it. They sacrificed so much for me when I went to Australia and it was nice to give back to my parents. It was awesome for them to be able to visit me and for them to be able to travel. My parents JUST got their passports to visit me but now it’s awesome because they now want to travel everywhere.

AAG: Do you have a mentor?

Chef Art: Chef Justin Paul, he was the person who’d I ask if something happened in the kitchen, what should I do? He was the restaurant instructor at the Art Institute that I attended.

AAG: Were you just on pastries or on other foods? How was the cuisine in Australia different from the cuisine in the states?

Chef Art: I was on pastries and salads and other things. It was interesting because the first time I made a Caesar salad there, they had me put a poached egg on top and I was like “what?!” I’d never seen that at any restaurants before and they told me that they do this all the time and this is the way the salad is supposed to go out of the kitchen. Wow. Wow! It was totally different.

AAG: You would think that the egg would taste very good with a Caesar salad, especially with the anchovies in the dressing. It sounds good and sounds really pretty as well.

Chef Art: Yes. Actually, it’s gorgeous. AAG: Do you feel as though people do not automatically perceive Australia as a wine and food destination? Chef Art: Oh, yea. When I thought about Australia, I thought about The Outback. Shrimp and BBQ and that’s about it. It is just different because in Sydney, you have China Town, where you can have the best Chinese food in your whole life. I took my parents out for Chinese food one night and they told me that it was the BEST Chinese food that they’d ever had in their whole life. And it’s funny because we came back to the states and at the first Chinese place we went to my dad said, “I can’t have it anymore, Australia ruined it for me. I’m sorry; I cannot eat anymore Chinese food because it is not going to be as good as what we had in Australia.” Mind you, we went to Chinese restaurants ALL the time when I was growing up. I told him, “Now you know my dilemma, Dad. Know you know my dilemma.” There’s also great Thai food and great Indian food as well. I just never thought Australian food would be so diverse. Yea, they cook lamb and beef and everything, but then they have Italian food and it’s the best pasta you’ve ever had, or the most tender lamb you’ve ever had where it falls off the bone or the best curry that smells so good. It is just that you can get so many different things and I didn’t even know and my parents didn’t even know until I brought them out there. My mom thought the same kind of things that I thought, like I was going to see kangaroos everywhere.

AAG: And you said that you did try kangaroo and it is kind of chewy?

Chef Art: Yea, it was very chewy, but it tasted good. It tasted just like beef. I liked it.

AAG: What are the people in Australia like?

Chef Art: Well, I came into the program with the mindset that I was going to be who I am and live life to the fullest. Australian people? I love them and they love me. Honestly, if Alliance Abroad Group had told me that I’d be making a family while I was over there, I wouldn’t have believed them. All my friends out there, I still talk to today. We’re still in contact, we talk every day. It is a different relationship because it is from a different country. There was a stigma because people there did say “when I first heard you’re an American, I was kind of standoff-ish. We think American’s are loud and rude. But once we met you, you totally changed our perception of Americans.” They asked me where my accent was because they thought it would be country or something. I’m from California. They didn’t understand that different regions of the states have different accents. It was weird when I went to a coffee shop. Coffee is big down there. If you haven’t had coffee in Australia, it’s the best coffee in the world. I tried ordering a mocha and the barista had a hard time understanding what I was ordering. I worked in a coffee shop for five years and for me it is called a “mocha”. But, in Australia, it is pronounced “maacha.” So, every time I ordered coffee, I have the inner dialog with myself, reminding me to say “maacha, instead of “mocha.” I also find myself requesting things in the kitchen now that I am back in the states and using the terms that Australian chefs use like “baasil” instead of “basil.”

AAG: How were the restaurant guests in Australia?

Chef Art: Nothing was really that different. Guests are guests no matter where you go. Nothing really changes. They may be in a different country, but it is the same thing that they want. They all want good food.

AAG: What was the wage like in Australia since there’s not customary tipping for hospitality industry professionals like there in the U.S. ?

Chef Art: That’s when their serving skills come into play, because tipping is not expected out there because they have a higher wage. I got paid $22 an hour, Monday – Friday and $28 an hour on Saturday. And on Sunday, I got paid $30 an hour.

AAG: What is in your future?

Chef Art: I want to host a TV show and ultimately open a restaurant. I also want to help underprivileged youth and latch key kids with after school baking classes. I just want to teach people who normally wouldn’t have the opportunity. I can teach them how to make food cheaper, especially if they don’t have the money for the ingredients. And that’s where I come in. I could go to the Boys & Girls Club or an after school center and help develop an after school baking program with them.

What is your favorite thing to bake?

Chef Art: I like to make crème brûlée because it is just a labor of love. You have to do everything just right and bake it at the right temperature or the milk will curdle. And then you put the sugar on top and then brûlée it. It takes forever to bake but it I love making it.

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