Diego Moya was one of the first stagiaires in our Intern Program back in 2009. With no culinary school background, we were able to help him stage at Dovetail and Public, which led to jobs at Kin Shop, and, more recently, Casa Mono. We spoke to Moya about his experiences and evolution as a chef.
Tell me about how you first got interested in cooking. I grew up being a little prep cook. My parents had some delis and a pizzeria, so I always grew up around food. I always knew I wanted to do something more with it, but I wasn’t sure how. I grew up on Long Island, where there’s not a lot of fine dining around. So I watched a lot of food tv and read food magazines.
How did you find Culintro? When I finally decided to get into food professionally after college, the first thing I did was try to look for stages. After calling a few chefs, they told me to speak to Culintro. Culintro helped me set up trails, which was especially helpful for me, because I didn’t go to culinary school. One of the chefs who told me to contact them – Harold Deiterle – I didn’t end up taking the stage with him because of scheduling, but a few years later, I ended up working with him anyway.
Where did you stage? I had two stages through Culintro. I worked at Dovetail for about 2 months, then Public for a few months. After that, I started doing short trails in different kitchens- Blue Hill, Daniel, then I went to Europe for a few weeks. Eventually I started looking for jobs and one of the first ones that popped up was Kinshop, Harold’s Thai restaurant in the West Village.
What are some of the unexpected things you learned as a stage? I knew how to cook, but I didn’t know how a restaurant worked. So it was silly things, like knowing how to call certain containers by their names, or how to say “behind you” when you’re on the line, or how to read a ticket—those are things I really didn’t know, so going into a restaurant, no matter how good I was, I couldn’t really coexist with everyone else until I did.
I didn’t even know what Dovetail was at first, but it was probably the most important part of my education, just being able to see the way food is handled in such a high level kitchen. From there, I could go on to other kitchens and have good habits.
What did you learn about how to run a successful kitchen? When I first started, I thought you did everything yourself. I realized quickly that you have to have a passionate, talented group of people that work together. There has to be cooperation, and a sharing of the passion, because you’re working so much. So probably the most important thing is to trust the people that work for you, or you work for, and to cooperate and communicate.
Where are you working now? At Casa Mono. I’m a lead line cook. I was going to go with Harold to open his new place, but it got delayed, then I decided I wanted to see some other places, and the job at Casa Mono came up through a friend. I loved it before I started working there. I met with the chef de cuisine there, and really liked what they were doing with the flavor profiles and local ingredients. He didn’t have a sous chef job for me right away but I decided to take this job and see where it goes. So far, it’s been really fun.
How has your cooking evolved since you started? How would you describe your style? It’s changed a lot. I think it’s really hard to have a style when you’re starting out—you develop it by working with different chefs and seeing different things.. At Kin Shop, for example, I knew nothing about southeast Asian cuisine, and I got to learn so much—the ingredients, techniques, the funky flavors, all of that. I loved to eat them, I just had no clue how to make them. Now I feel like that’s a big part of my toolbox, whenever I’m doing my own dinners or tasting menus.
What are your future plans? do you want to open your own place? At first I didn’t know, but now I know I definitely want to open someplace up, soon. Hopefully within the next two years. I want to go back to Europe to do some more stages at Noma or another progressive kitchen, then come back, cook for another year or so, then start to look for investors to open a place here in New York.