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Meet the Chef Behind the Flavors Part 1

EXECUTIVE CHEF DAVID HACKETT

Meet the master behind the amazing cuisine at Caribe Royale Orlando. Our newly-appointed Executive Chef, David Hackett, is an international award-winning chef with experience serving multiple Four and Five Diamond hotels and resorts for global brands. Chef David has won over two dozen culinary awards spanning the last 30 years and is a recipient of the prestigious Brillat-Savarin Medaille de Merite for excellence and achievements in the culinary arts. Chef David innovates the incredible dishes that our guests enjoy at The Venetian Chop House, Tropicale, and all of our dining venues. He also directs all banquet dining at the Caribe Royale Orlando Convention Center, treating our meeting and convention guests to his inspired culinary creations.  Chef David took some time away from the kitchen to share a little bit of his story.

How did you get into the culinary arts?

My brother had taken a job at a local restaurant in Chicago, but then got injured and wasn’t able to work. So my mom called the owner and explained what happened. She said, “I have another son, Dave is younger but he’s taller and looks older. Can I send him instead of his brother?” So, I went in and got the job. I was fifteen years old and I started out by washing dishes after school and on weekends, and then started working in the pantry.

How did you get into the culinary arts side of the business?

Well, it was interesting because my father is a Marine and my first supervising Chef, Paul Young, was a Marine, and I wanted to go into the Marines. But my parents wanted me to try cooking first because they noticed that I had a knack for it. I was a natural with holding a knife, following recipes, and coming up with new ideas. So I decided to give cooking a try.

Where did you train to be a chef?

I attended Washburne Culinary and Hospitality Institute. It’s one of the oldest culinary schools in the United States, and at the time there were only four culinary schools in the country. Washburne is strictly a culinary program. It’s eight hours a day, six hours of cooking, two hours of cleaning, plus menu reviews. They teach you how to be a great chef. There were five different phases within Washburne. French nouvelle cuisine was the first, second was appetizers soups and salads, the third phase was pastry and baking, the fourth was all butchery, including meats, sauces and reductions, and then the fifth phase kind of tied it all in. It was truly comprehensive and prepared me for my career as a chef.

How does your heritage inspire you?

My mom was a phenomenal cook. She is Mexican, and she just had a great taste, she would always say,  “I want you to taste!” So, it kind of drew me in. My grandmother would come over to make homemade tamales and enchiladas. We made homemade tortillas, everything was from scratch and homemade. I try to put a little bit of my Mexican heritage into the foods that I create. I really like things to be very bold and represented very well. I prefer clean presentations, but also things that are rich in flavor and spice. Mexican cuisine does that well, so I try to incorporate that element.

Do any other cultures inspire your cooking?

Oh, every culture! I spent about three years in the Middle East and Dubai. It was my second Executive Chef position, and I thought I knew a lot about food, but I didn’t know anything. It was very humbling for me to go there. Our hotel had 11 restaurants and 14 food and beverage outlets, so we touched on every bit of cuisine. The ones that really inspire me the most are Indian cuisine, Middle Eastern cuisine, German, French and Lebanese. Flying to those countries to recruit chefs in order to build the restaurants within the hotel was extraordinary experience.

So how did the road lead you to Orlando?

This role at Caribe Royale marks my return to Orlando. My first time was when I got out of Washburne. Disney World came to recruit chefs, and I came down in 1988 when I graduated from culinary school. I started off at the Living Seas Pavilion, at the Coral Reef Restaurant. I was there for about eight months as a lead line cook. It’s interesting because I was living with mom and dad, making more money at the time, then I came down and worked for Disney making less. It was a big shock, but I needed to work for a corporation and it was time for me to do so. I started off at Epcot and then I moved over to MGM Studios for the opening of the Brown Derby Cafe, and eventually I was promoted as an area chef, overseeing that whole side of the property.

Why do you enjoy being a chef?

Probably because it changes all the time. I really wanted to be an architect when I was going to high school, but then I realized that being in the culinary industry, there are a lot more mediums to work with. I have competed in the culinary Olympics and other competitions that challenge my skills. That’s probably why I love it: the creativity part of it is always evolving and always changing. It’s all about trying to find ways to make it unique and fun.

Describe your food style in five words.

Unique, bold, statement-making, relatable and beautifully presented.

Chef David is an invaluable part of our team here at Caribe Royale, and we’re all enjoying the delicious fruits of his labor! Stay tuned to the Caribe Royale Blog for Part 2 of our Meet the Chef Series, where we will explore Chef David’s vision for the various Caribe Royale Orlando dining venues and some of the culinary delights he is sharing with our guests and conference attendees.

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