Many of today’s young chefs were first exposed to cooking through their parents, especially their mothers. Harold Jurado literally slept on 50-pound bags of flour in his mother’s Filipino bakery and restaurant in suburban Chicago. At the age of five, he was baking traditional Filipino bread rolls, and he was also using a cooling rack and five-gallon bucket to play back-alley basketball.
“Food was a huge part of our family life, at an emotional level,” says Jurado, who now works for Bon Appétit Management Company in a Silicon Valley tech account. “And Filipino food is still my comfort food.”
Although he initially had no intention of going into the restaurant industry, it was perhaps inevitable that he ended up at Kendall College in Chicago, earning his degree in Culinary Arts in 2005. From there, he had stints in restaurants as diverse as Japonais in New York and Las Vegas and Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago.
But the bold, multicultural flavors of the Philippines were always a siren song and an inspiration. “Filipino food is so salty and spicy and fatty. It’s unrefined, in a good way,” he explains. “It’s the food I’m used to, but it also appeals to people who are looking for really flavorful food. And it was very well accepted in meat-and-potatoes Chicago.”
This background gave Jurado the palate and the confidence to open his own restaurant (the trendsetting Chizakaya, which he operated for three years) in the style of an izakaya. Izakaya are the casual rustic pubs that are so much a part of the Japanese lifestyle, with their wide-ranging menus of noodles and grilled and fried foods, meant to be enjoyed with after-work drinks.
“Most people only know Japanese food as sushi, which is very refined and subtle,” says Jurado. “But izakaya food is casual and fun and very, very flavorful.”
From there, the chef went on to hone his approach to pan-cultural Asian food at such Chicago restaurants as Jellyfish and Yushu, where he won a 2015 StarChefs Rising Chef Award for his modern eclectic comfort food—taking him from innovations like Brussels Sprout Steam Buns and Charred Octopus with sake-braised mushrooms to local Ramen Battles. He also learned the discipline necessary to manage food costs and streamline the chaos that is part of a professional kitchen.
Making the move to the noncommercial side of the business not only gives Jurado entrée into a higher-volume and more disciplined world, it also offers him a chance to bring his food to a much wider audience. It’s a pathway he would recommend for any chef or culinary professional looking to balance innovation and a more regimented approach to developing and scaling recipes.
“At Yushu, if I wanted to change something up, I just told one of the line guys,” he says. “Here it all has to go through a rigorous process of documentation and follow-through, which is great discipline, but you can also be very creative.”
Not only that, but the hours are better. “Oh yeah, it’s great having weekends off,” he laughs. This hasn’t prevented Jurado from taking a night job cooking in a friend’s new Japanese restaurant in San Francisco, just to keep his hand in.