By Anna-Claire Bevan
The name Christian Rossell has long been synonymous in Guatemala with fine Italian dining: in 2005, the half-American half-Guatemalan chef opened the doors of his first restaurant, Pecorino, in Guatemala City, before unveiling a chain of deli’s, and then launching a pizzeria, which introduced Guatemala to thin-crust pizzas. But this year, the name is also synonymous with the country’s coveted Chef of the Year award.
The prize, which was voted for by the Guatemalan government, the Chamber of Commerce and Inguat, Guatemala’s tourism board, assessed each candidate’s success as a chef, the diversity of their menu and their education.
No doubt Rossell’s impressive New Jersey culinary background, coupled with his regular trips to New York and Italy in search of gastronomic inspiration, helped him come out on top.
Rossell, whose Italian mother was born and raised in New Jersey and whose father is Guatemalan, grew up in Guatemala before moving to Florida where he discovered that he wanted to be a chef.
“I started my training in New Jersey at the Academy of Culinary Arts, then I worked at four- and five- star restaurants in New York before going on to be the Head Chef on the US entrepreneur Roger Penske’s yacht,” says Rossell. “It was a lot of fun: he would call me up and ask me to start preparing a meal for him and his wife and then they would fly in a couple of hours later for dinner.”
When he went back to Guatemala, the award-winning chef decided to open up his own restaurant, and with his Sicilian ancestry there was only one choice: it had to be Italian.
“We sell rib eye steaks, 40 oz. T-Bones and have the largest wine cellar in Central America [stocking 830 varieties of vino] – that’s the Italian way,” laughs Rossell, whose talent and eye for detail have also won him awards at the New York Food Show.
Not long after returning to Guatemala, Rossell was given his own cooking show, which became the most popular program on the network and even featured Rossell venturing up one of Guatemala’s volcanoes, Volcan de Pacaya, to cook off the lava.
The chef’s next adventure, in between plenty of trips back and forth to New York and Italy in search of further culinary inspiration, includes plans to open up a Mexican eatery and a seafood restaurant in Guatemala’s capital.
Anna-Claire Bevan is a British journalist based in Guatemala City. She writes about political, environmental and social issues for magazines, newspapers and websites in the US, the UK, Guatemala and Spain. Anna originally set up her first blog Vida Latina as a result of her travels in Latin America and frustrations at the lack of media coverage that this area of the world receives.