The Take Away: Talking Culinary Competitions with the Petroleum Club’s Vanguelis Pablopulos


Name: Vanguelis Pablopulos
Title: Executive Sous Chef at the Petroleum Club
Age: 32
Birthplace: Santiago, Chile
Industry Experience: 19 years
Money quote: “I started from the bottom. I was washing dishes and cooking in fast-food kitchens for years before I became a chef for fine dining restaurants.”

Tell us about your background and how you got where you are.
I was 13 years old when I moved from Chile to Florida, and I soon began working in local kitchens as a dishwasher. I was cooking at an Applebee’s in 2009 when I met a chef from The Columbia, a well-respected fine dining restaurant in Florida. The meeting inspired me to dive into [the culinary world] headfirst and learn everything I could. I started from the bottom. I was washing dishes and cooking in fast-food kitchens for years before I became a chef for fine dining restaurants. I worked for several upscale restaurants in Florida before I was recruited to take over at The Argyle in San Antonio, nearly four years ago. I recently joined the Petroleum Club, a private dining club located inside the Energy Plaza Building.

What’s your current signature dish?
Crispy skin branzino served with mango salsa and baby carrots. I’ve been working with molecular gastronomy, so I’ve added shapes to the dish that are inspired by ocean coral and filled with squid ink flavor.

You’re headed to the 2019 World Food Championships in Dallas next month. What inspires you to compete?
All my life I’ve had this competitive edge; whatever I do, I try to be the best. I like to keep learning as much as possible, and I think competing gives me a better understanding of other chefs. I entered another contest, the Texas Super Chef Throwdown in 2018 and won a Golden Ticket that allowed me to join the competitive team at the World Food Championships. I didn’t even know about the event before that.

This year, I’ll be competing in the event with pastry chef Kelley Benson. We’ve been working together for more than a year — I’m a strong front of line, while she’s strongest on pastries — and we work well together. There’s going to be thousands of contestants, but there will be individual and team events that allow us to tell our sides of the story. We’ve competed at the WFC once before now and have a clearer vision of what to do, and how to create that “wow factor” in our presentation. I’m a little nervous, but we hope to make it to top 10, so we can represent San Antonio and bring home that prize.

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