Kitchen Confidential

Chefs from Peacock’s, Baja Cantina, and Denni’s Catering share their roads to success

Walk along the Cabo San Lucas Marina or through historic San José del Cabo, and the incredible diversity of Los Cabos restaurants becomes abundantly clear. There’s everything from traditional Mexican menus to Japanese, Italian, Pacific Rim fusion, and more. The stories of how these restaurants—and the chefs who helm them—came to be in Los Cabos are just as diverse. Three top chefs recently sat down with Los Cabos Magazine writer Sandra A. Berry and spoke about their kitchen adventures.

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Emmanuel Prieto.

The Natural

A personal crisis in 2009 inspired Emmanuel Prieto to make some drastic life changes. He left his native México City, where he had studied international business in college, and headed for Brazil. There, he went to work for a French chef who “was a tough master” and a mentor. Other than the knowledge he’d gleaned growing up, he knew nothing about cooking, but, as he says, “the coolest thing about a kitchen is that it accepts everyone, no matter what little they know.”

Little by little, Prieto started learning what he realized would become his trade. His mentor told him to go to work in a hotel, so he returned to México City and began working for a new Starwood-owned Westin Hotel, where the sous chef became another mentor whom Prieto describes as “not being square or from the old school.” After a year, Prieto relocated to Puerta Vallarta. One year later, he was back in México City at Pujol, one of the most highly rated restaurants. He attended classes during this time and earned a degree in Mexican cuisine, studying everything from traditional to contemporary.

Prieto couldn’t resist the opportunity to work for seven months as the private chef on a 100-foot yacht, where he had free rein to cook what was becoming his own style. He became confident, learned about fresh seafood—often catching it himself—and became enamored with the sea. Along the way, he even lost his “fear of swimming for fear of sharks.”

While in port at Cabo San Lucas, he met the owners of Peacock’s and was promised he could make his own menu if he came to work for them. Before starting, he traveled to Thailand for one month “to taste everything.” He now has been with Peacock’s as the executive chef for one year. Prieto recently went to Copenhagen, Denmark, to attend the famous MAD symposium to learn about Scandinavian food. “Everywhere I have traveled and every job I’ve held has been a platform on my career path. The fact that I started late and had little formal education in the food industry, my strategy is to catch up.” The 29-year-old Prieto is eager to learn and not afraid to take chances. “You just have to trust your instincts,” he says.

The Accidental Chef

Manuel Arredondo knows the meaning of the phrase “If you dream it, you can accomplish it.” The Baja Cantina Group corporate chef and partner grew up in a poor community in central México with no electricity and no schools. Now he is in Los Cabos, having spent 18 years as one of the world’s leaders in event management and culinary service. He has catered for the Olympic Games, prestigious political events, and two milestone birthday parties for President George H. W. Bush and 5,500 of his closest friends.

Emmanuel Arredondo.
Emmanuel Arredondo.

His long journey to success, he says, has allowed Arredondo to fulfill his mother’s vision for him. His mother, who did not read or write, wanted him to make something of his life. She persuaded his father to move to Dolores Hidalgo, where Arredondo could receive an education. He loved school and loathed the school-less summer months. On Sundays, he would lay out his shoes and clothes to wear the next day. He was always dreaming of being in school and wanted to be an architect, but did not have the funds to finish.

Instead, he stumbled into being a chef. Arredondo started as a dishwasher, and a mentor quickly identified his raw talent, encouraging him to go to the best hotels and restaurants to learn everything he could. After several restaurant ventures in México and in the United States, Arredondo recently joined the Baja Cantina Group—with a vision for even more success.

The Catering King

Denis Gabriel caught the kitchen bug when he was only 10 years old and knew he wanted to make food his world.

Denis Gabriel.
Denis Gabriel.

As a child, he chose to spend his time helping his mother with the cooking. He attended culinary school in his hometown of Marseille, France, studying everything from classic French cooking to serving, opening bottles, setting tables, and preparing flambé dishes. For the last 25 years, he has been catering weddings, corporate events, and private parties.
His four older siblings grew up to become doctors or other professionals who stayed in France. While they may be wondering what their brother is doing in México, Gabriel knows he made the right choice.