Former Long Valley Resident Turned New York City Chef Uses Pandemic to Relight His Culinary Passions

By: Megan Roche


For Gabriel “Gabe” Maldonado, COVID-19 has brought many challenges, but has also helped to reignite his passion for the culinary arts. Maldonado, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, has been busy chopping, sautéing, and producing some major dishes in his New York City apartment.


“I grew up in a very large family, it started with my grandmother in the kitchen and I would love to help her. One of my very first things I did with her in the kitchen was mash garlic. For me, it was a way to connect to her. As I got older, we started going to a few nicer restaurants with my family and I got to see what hospitality really was. As I got interested in it, I realized it was one of the few things that I was really, really good at,” Maldonado shared. 


Maldonado faced many challenges when the COVID-19 pandemic began. First, he was furloughed from his job; that came when New York City was ultimately shut down. Maldonado became frightened of what might come next. However, he turned to his first love, cooking, when things went south.


“It happened so quickly and a lot of people in the industry suffered from the lack of direction and constant go, go, go. I enjoyed the moment of breath for a few days, especially in the culinary field, I was working 10-12 hours a day. As the months went on though, I really found myself longing to go back to work and get back to giving people culinary experiences. For me, cooking has always been a way of showing my love, and when I went to visit some family, I became kind of the caretaker of the house, so I jumped back into cooking very quickly,” Maldonado said. 


Chef Maldonado has worked in some of the top restaurants in New York City. He has worked both in the kitchen and in the front of the house. He recently transitioned into a more managerial role, helping to hire and promote for a restaurant corporation. He admits that while he wasn’t in the kitchen much, he’s never forgotten how much joy the environment brought him.


“When I was in high school, I didn’t realize how many options there were when it came to the culinary industry. It really started with me working in the kitchen. From there, I transitioned to front of the house as a server and a manager. After that, I moved into talent acquisitions with hiring sommeliers, chefs, and managers. There’s so many options in this field,” Maldonado shared. 


Chef Gabe has been posting a number of videos of his delicious eats on his Instagram. He’s been getting quite creative, recent recipes include homemade Mole sauce, an Arabian and North African inspired Shakshuka, vegan pesto sauce, and ceviche, among others. What advice does Maldonado have for those who may be looking to get a little creative in the kitchen during quarantine? He suggests making sure to have the essentials before even beginning. 


“I love having the opportunity to share tips and tricks for cooking with others. First, always make sure your pans are hot when you are cooking. Don’t cook on cold pans or your food is not going to be seared and have that crispy flavor. Always have a sharp knife, one of the worst things you can do is cut with a dull knife. You will either cut yourself or your slices will be crooked. Third, is mise en place. Mise en place means everything in its place. Basically, just have all your ingredients out and ready to go so when you begin to cook, you know where everything is,” Maldonado says. 


Has COVID been great? Absolutely not, but for Maldonado, he’s thankful to the pandemic for reminding him of his first love.


“At one point, just a short time ago, I wanted nothing to do with cooking in the kitchen. This period of time has reminded me that the culinary industry is not small. This world is about growing and learning about yourself and the business. The ability to teach people how to cook for themselves, while staying sustainable-friendly, is so important to me. I want to use this quarantine experience as a way of change for the culinary industry,” Maldonado says. 


For more cooking videos or some recipe inspiration, visit Maldonado’s Instagram, @KeepinItGabriel. 

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