Chef Spotlight – Chef Rodrigo Velazco

Chef Rodrigo Velazco is a Venezuelan-born, internationally trained chef that has recently taken on the role of Executive Chef at Vivace in Charlotte.  Chef Rodrigo and his family moved from Miami to Charlotte just four months ago and began his tenure at Vivace a mere month ago.  Vivace has only been increasing in popularity over the past few years, which made Chef Rodrigo even more excited to be part of the Vivace team.

In Miami, Chef Rodrigo was fortunate to train under Chef Phil Bryant at The Local Craft Food & Drink.  Chef Rodrigo credits this experience to observing and learning how to nurture and push people to excel.  He also says he learned that keeping the business going is the first priority and everything else falls into place afterwards.  Chef Rodrigo also credits chefs from after the late 1970s as changing and evolving the industry as a whole.  “People were able to see that you could choose to be a chef or cook, you weren’t forced into it as a result of certain circumstances,” he states.

Rodrigo Velazco

Rodrigo Velazco

Although they vacationed frequently to Charlotte, Chef Rodrigo and his family always returned back to the hustle and bustle of Miami.  Tired of the lack of work-life balance, Chef Rodrigo and his family made one final trip to Charlotte before deciding to call it home.  “Everyone here is down to earth.  There are less pretentions.  I want to live here where I’m able to spend time and have a great place to raise my family,” Chef Rodrigo says.

Chef Rodrigo’s classic brigade training has spanned various cuisines, but one thing stays the same.  “I learned under old school French chefs who used yelling and loud tactics to force the cooks to learn in a high pressure situation.  That worked for me, but as a chef and now a leader, you can’t use that format with everyone and expect to be successful.  There’s no yelling or cursing in our kitchen.  If something needs to be addressed, I pull aside the cook in the moment so we can talk and provide feedback on what went wrong.  There are no big egos here, we’re all learning and growing together.”

Chef Rodrigo says, “I didn’t aim to be a chef growing up.  I wanted to be an amazing cook.”  His humility continues as he explains how the success of Vivace is the result of everyone’s hard work and effort.  He continues, “We’re in the situation where we have an open kitchen so people can see everything that’s going on.  I have instilled in my line chefs that they have to own their stations, taste their food and make adjustments.  I want them to know their food tastes good and not guess.  We’re now to the point where customers will come up and thank the line chefs for their meals because they know it’s them cooking the meals, not me.  That’s the most fulfilling part to me, seeing their faces light up when they get those compliments.”

Throughout his life, Chef Rodrigo has explored cookbooks to learn more about different cuisines and techniques, but he soon realized he’d reached a ceiling.  He could learn how to cook better and practice various methods, but that didn’t necessarily mean that translated over into leading a team.  Chef Rodrigo soon started reading coaching books that helped him learn how to coach his staff.  He says, “The word ‘connection’ is so vital to what we do.  Creating the connections with my staff and with our diners.  Connecting with them and creating relatability makes everyone more invested in what we’re doing.”

Chef Rodrigo’s passion also spans into creating outreach opportunities with Vivace.  They are currently working on putting on a fundraiser to benefit the Alzheimer’s Foundation, a cause near and dear to Chef Rodrigo and his family.  “We’re lucky to live in an area where the Charlotte community is so nurturing and accepting to help others.  We want to be part of giving back where we can, when we can.”  With Vivace’s upswing in popularity over the last 24 months, Chef Rodrigo is nothing but another talented asset to this restaurant group.

Photo courtesy of Rodrigo Velazco.

Tessa Nguyen is a chef and registered dietitian working in the Triangle area. She is an alumna of Johnson & Wales University and Meredith College. When Tessa isn’t traveling and discovering new food spots, she teaches culinary nutrition cooking classes at Duke and works as a consultant in the health and wellness industry. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter @ChefTessaRD.

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