Chef Cardona: I Started Out as a Broke, Illegal Immigrant. What’s Your Excuse?

Today he’s the star of a TLC International reality series while serving as executive chef at some of Manhattan’s best-known restaurants—and as personal chef to A-listers ranging from Marc Anthony to Derek Jeter to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

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“Because I’m infatuated with what I do, I never feel like I’m working,” says Chef Cardona (above).

But 30 years ago, Ricardo Cardona was just another broke immigrant fresh off the boat from Central America, roaming the streets in search of work.

“When I arrived here from El Salvador as a teenager, I not only had to learn my way around Manhattan, I had to learn a new career and a new language,” he tells Eduardo Quezada, host of Tu Propio Negocio on BlogTalkRadio en Español.

So when Chef Cardona—who last week opened yet another Big Apple hotspot, Z BAR Restaurant & Sky-Lounge—hears complaints from wannabe entrepreneurs saying they can’t find work, he ratchets up the tough love.

“I tell them the same thing I tell my 26-year-old son: I came to this country illegally with just $20 in my pocket and without knowing a word of English, and I made it. What’s your excuse?”

Chef Cardona adds that young Hispanics looking to become successful in business must possess strong leadership and negotiating skills, along with common sense.

“You can’t open an upscale restaurant in a poor neighborhood,” he says. “And if what you do is make French fries, and then they must be the best French fries in the world.

“The point is, be the best at what you do, do it with passion, and always know who you’re serving.”

As for his own favorite culinary creation, Chef Cardona, whose restaurant-makeover show, Mission Menu, airs throughout Latin America, reveals:

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] “Once you are Marc Anthony’s and Jennifer Lopez’s chef, everyone wants to use your services,” Chef Cardona (above with the pop stars and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor) tells us.

“There’s a dish that everyone thinks I learned from my grandmother, but I actually thought it up at an airport on my way to San Diego. It’s called el puerquito—pork shoulder with Mexican chile, chipotle, and Dominican sour oranges and oregano, all wrapped in plantain leaves and cooked at low heat for five hours.

“I’ve cooked it for Sonia Sotomayor, Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony.”

Sponsored by Amway, Tu Propio Negocio launched in September and runs through October 31 on BlogTalkRadio en Español.

To hear Chef Cardona’s full interview, tune in here

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