Juan Monterroso moved from his home country of Guatemala to Nashville in 1994, at the age of 21, to be with his older brother and seek out a better life, better opportunities. That desire lead him into the restaurant world, and soon after landing here, to McCabe Pub, a popular Sylvan Park neighborhood restaurant and bar, that he has been at now for close to 18 years. Here are his thoughts on his time spent in the kitchen.
(Editor's Note: Juan will be leaving McCabe Pub before the end of the month to take over the reins in the kitchen for 12South's Burger Up.)
How did you get your start working in restaurant kitchens?
When I first got to Nashville in 1994, I just needed a way to start making money. So I went to a local Shoney's restaurant and they gave me a job as a dishwasher. I was 21 years old, and it was my first experience working in a real kitchen.
How did you wind up finding your way to McCabe Pub?
While I was at Shoney's, another guy who worked there, Phillip, also worked at McCabe Pub. He saw that I had become interested in the way the kitchen worked, that I wanted to do something creative and get involved with the actual process of cooking food. So he helped bring me over to work in McCabe's kitchen as a line cook.
What positions have you held at McCabe Pub, and has anyone worked there longer than you have?
I started off as a line cook in 1995, and then moved up to sous chef, which is where I am currently at today. Ernie Fleming, the head chef, has been at McCabe for 25 years. I can't compete with that.
What are some of the changes you have seen over the years, particularly when it comes to the menu and the food?
When I first started working there, the menu was heavy on casseroles. A lot of our older customers liked them. But as time went on, we needed to adjust the menu to reflect a younger customer base. That was one of the major changes, and it has worked out pretty well.
Since McCabe Pub is known by many around town as Nashville's "Cheers," what is it like seeing many of the same customers week after week? Are there any that come in every day?
It's great to see some of the same people coming back on a very regular basis. It shows that we are doing something right. And yes, there are a few people that come in every day, and have been for as long as I can remember, maybe as long as I've been working there.
Since the restaurant business can be such a transient one, what has kept you at McCabe Pub for so long?
Ha, my son, Nicholas. I needed to pay off his school tuition! But seriously, they are a great group of people over there. When you work somewhere that long, everyone around you becomes your family. I love everyone there, and I have great respect for everyone in that kitchen.
Over the years, is there someone that has taught you the most about cooking and becoming a chef?
I've picked up something, some little bit of knowledge, some technique, from everyone I have worked with. So it's hard to pick one person that has had the most influence on me. Growing up, my sisters worked in restaurant kitchens, so there was a little bit of exposure there. I would probably have to say my mother, watching her at home making the traditional family dishes.