It’s no secret that a restaurant is the sum of its parts and that often, those in the ranks don’t receive enough recognition. For this series, we’re on a mission to find the industry’s true unsung heroes—help us by nominating one of yours at diningout.com.
Candelario Navarro moved to the United States in 1996 from Jalisco, Mexico, where he worked on a small family ranch. Now a trained cook who hops on the line weekly at 3 Margaritas in Broomfield, Navarro still prefers the dish station where he’s been washing dishes since the late 1990s. “He knows the whole kitchen and if someone doesn’t show up, we put him on the line,” says restaurant owner Jesus Gutierrez. “But he always says, ‘I’ll help you, but I love my office. Don’t take me away.’” Navarro has clearly found his niche and Gutierrez is quick to point out the restaurant just wouldn’t function without his heart and positive energy.
DiningOut: How and when did you discover cooking and working in a kitchen?
Candelario Navarro: In 1996, I came to the United States to work. I came here with someone that I knew and I worked in a restaurant for a while. After a year, I returned to Mexico and I got married to my wife. We came back in 1999 and I lived in the apartments near 3 Margaritas, and I started to work there. They taught me to cook in the restaurant.
DO: What was the first thing you learned to cook?
CN: The first thing that they taught me to cook was eggs, but in the restaurant I learned a lot in a short amount of time.
DO: Tell me about a special memory you have about food.
CN: Whenever I prepare something for the first time, and it comes out delicious. I like it when everyone, like my family, likes what I prepare.
DO: What don’t you like [about the restaurant industry]?
CN: I don’t like it when they yell at us—ha, ha! Also, how busy you get.
DO: Do you have a favorite motto, saying or phrase?
CN: “Hola, amigo!” *fist bump*
DO: Finish this sentence: “Working in a restaurant is like…”
CN: Working in a restaurant [is a place] to get ahead. It’s a place to learn and have fun.
DO: How has COVID affected you and your work?
CN: COVID affected us because there were practically no customers like there were before. The good thing was that I didn’t lose my job during the pandemic. Jesus [Gutierrez] always gave us work when we needed it.
Tune into Best Served, a podcast from Jensen Cummings. The Denver chef spent his entire career cooking and owning restaurants, until he realized he could better serve those around him by being a conduit of community. Cummings has since made it his mission to find and champion the industry’s unsung heroes.