We had the good fortune of connecting with Hugo Valdez and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Hugo, what habits do you feel helped you succeed?
The pursuit of evolution. I always wanted the next best skill. Whether it be a knife skill, cooking technique or flavor pairing. I always wanted to push myself past my own limits. My favorite saying is that you never know what a person is made of until you apply pressure
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I would like to think that a well rounded palate and skillset is what sets me apart from others. I always threw myself in cuisines I didn’t know so I can be forced to grow as a Chef. You can never stop learning. Part of being a chef in my opinion is to be versatile and adaptable. if you cannot do that, work will be very stressful. My 2 most proudest accomplishments are: 1. When the pandemic struck, I immediately started doing curbside pop ups for the community. The love for food and need, never stopped. We had to keep moving no matter what happened. It will always be a badge of strength I will never stop wearing. The lesson was to keep going and adapt to whatever is thrown at you.
2. Opening a restaurant with my bestfriend. A friendship that started with bacon years ago, transformed into something greater than both of us. We both love food and it brought us close. Mid pandemic we spoke about it and came to terms that she is really business savvy and I am kitchen savvy and we both shared the common goal of wanting good food and giving people a livable wage with a work to life balance. . Fast forward to now, that’s what we do. We make good food and take care of the people who work for us.
All in all the biggest lesson is to take care of the people who take care of you. You cannot have a company if you do not have staff to run it. It is not easy but nothing worth fighting for rarely comes easy.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would definitely take them to different areas. Atlanta has a very good graffiti scene. There are certain havens that one can go to appreciate the raw skill and talent that the local artists have to offer. Breweries in Atlanta are also a big deal, Fire Maker, Dr. Scofflaw’s and Second Self are some of my favorites. MJQ will always be on the list, I’ve never not had a good time there. Up and coming places such as The Works on the upper west side. Pomodoro Bella for pizza, Graffiti Breakfast for breakfast, Baked Kitchen for South African, Bahn mi station for pho and bahn mis. Of course, us at Sakura Ramen for ramen. It is just a wonderful collective of different nationalities and cultures to indulge in and the chefs put their heart and soul to their dishes. Memphis Smokehouse for both good vibes and awesome food. Uncle Jacks Meat house for great steak. Last but not least to feed my rhino friend Mumbles at the Atlanta Zoo. It’s such an experience to see an animal so big in size be so gentle, He’s a huge puppy honestly. Basically, if a friend visits, they better not eat for a week because we are going everywhere to eat all kinds of food.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Anna Grace Hoang, Stephen Bradley Smallwood, Raquel Martinez, Justin Hayden, Jeremy Matthews, Julio Pedraza, Darick Prather, Alex Ritchie, Kaitlyn, Journey and Jordan. Anna as the owner is the backbone of the restaurant and “The Ramen Heads” are the literal heart of the kitchen. The Front of the house staff for being the face and taking care of the diners. We would not be alive without these individuals. They put in 1000% as the opening team and deserve every ounce of recognition. Also, all the supporters for VIVA LA MASA as well. They made the pop up series so successful and it leaked over to the ramen bar. It feels good to open a restaurant and have people waiting to be fed. It really brings a sense of motivation to the staff.
Facebook: Sakura Ramen Bar