Executive Sous Chef Abril Galindo dishes on her new Guadalajara, Mexico-inspired menu at Four Seasons Hotel Austin’s Live Oak.
By Chelsea Pribble, Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Austin
Believe it or not, Abril Galindo was once a stranger to salt and seasoning. The executive sous chef at Four Seasons Hotel Austin was raised on healthy, low-fat meals made with care by a health-conscious mom. Though Galindo looked forward to family outings in her hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico, they usually veered from fine dining and stuck to fresh fruit, corn and tacos from local street vendors. Her taste buds jolted to life after her first bite of salted eggs Florentine during her culinary training, and it flavorfully changed her course.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but it captivated me,” Galindo recalls. “I was like, ‘What is this? Why haven’t I tasted this before?’ The moment I realized you can transform flavor with salt, I was like, ‘How is it possible [that]all my life, I never knew that?’ It was a shock.”
Today, Galindo whisks up mouthwatering dishes saturated with flavors from her native Guadalajara every day for Four Seasons Hotel Austin’s recently opened lobby restaurant and bar, Live Oak. From delicate scallop ceviche drizzled in a strawberry-habanero salsa to a prime hamburger served with soft panela cheese and a savory bone-marrow aioli, food comas are sure to be induced at Live Oak.
Much like Austin, Galindo thinks Guadalajara is experiencing a culinary explosion. With Galindo drawing inspiration from recent trips back home and the flavors she grew up with, her menu is unlike anything in Texas.
“I feel there are flavors you know because you have eaten them your whole life,” Galindo says. “Then, when you try something here, you notice it’s missing something. Garlic is a big thing in Mexico and something you don’t feel as strong in American food, but when you put it in and you know how to work it, it transforms the flavor. Even acidity or chile or salt or sugar—it comes from the flavor profile I’ve known from Mexico.”
Before Galindo discovered her love for flavor, she was lost. She applied to medical school and then turned it down to study hospitality at the Universidad del Valle de Mexico, with her sights set on managing a hotel or restaurant. She eventually pivoted with determination to the culinary world and never turned back.
From her first internship at Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita as a cook working 11-hour days to learning about colonial Mexican food at a small boutique hotel in Guadalajara to flipping artisanal burgers, Galindo absorbed everything like a sponge and found herself taking on more responsibility.
“It was great, but in Mexico, we don’t make a lot of money,” Galindo says. “So, I was looking for another option and that’s how I ended up [at Four Seasons Hotel Austin] the first time for training.”
Despite the culture shock, Galindo left an impression on Executive Chef Elmar Prambs during her training. For the last three months, she was assigned the lunch shift and was in charge of making the daily specials, from soup to main courses and all the garnishes in between. Thrilled at the opportunity, she went home every day to research and bring new ideas into the kitchen.
“It’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me. [Chef Prambs] brought me in and helped me with my paperwork and visa,” Galindo says. “When I got here, I was the banquet chef and it was a little tough because I didn’t work banquets before. I would miss things, but I would learn and I would learn. I finally did it right and he felt secure with me. He started trusting me. I introduced new flavors or new dishes for special events and he was happy I was taking more responsibility.”
Working in the kitchen isn’t as glamorous as it seems, however. The role of executive sous chef is demanding and requires Galindo to constantly be on her toes, literally and figuratively. The days and weeks are long and require frequent coffee injections. For Galindo, that isn’t a problem, and her tenacity is, in part, the reason for her success.
“I like to feel pressure,” Galindo says. “It’s funny, when I worked in line as a cook, the best times I worked [are]when we had 200 or 300 people. I loved that; it’s a challenge. At first, you’re like, ‘Oh jeez, I’m not going to make it,’ but then, ‘Oh wow, I did it.’ I always say it’s like going to war and then you finish and you’re like, ‘Oh yes, I survived.’”
Though she’s now got years of culinary experience, Galindo says she take each day in stride, happily accepting judgment of her dishes while also embracing the hectic nature of cooking in a high-end kitchen.
“You have to be open to criticism. It’s very important. You have to take it because nobody’s perfect. I can burn things. It happens. Not everyone is going to love the food you make, so you have to have an open mind,” Galindo says. “You’ve got to love what you do. You’ve got to feel it.”