From Michelin Stars to Morrison Healthcare: Chef Jose L. Diaz Vales Celebrates Food and Culture
In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15, 2021), we are recognizing some of Morrison Healthcare’s amazing chefs with Hispanic or Latinx heritage. By sharing their stories and culture, we can come together through food, family, and community.
“I would pay someone to do this job. I love it.”
Chef Jose L. Diaz Vales has had an interesting career. It has taken him from a Michelin 3-star restaurant in London to jetways of LaGuardia Airport and now Morrison Healthcare.
Before starting as executive chef at Memorial Herman Southwest, Diaz Vales worked in some of the world’s most celebrated fine dining restaurants in London and New York City. It was career-changing and empowering work. From there, he was lured to LaGuardia Airport in New York City and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, where he created new restaurant concepts alongside some of the country’s most identifiable celebrity chefs.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced many of his restaurants to shut down, he saw an opportunity in healthcare and joined the Morrison Healthcare team. At Memorial Herman Southwest, he has found a work-life balance that he had never seen in his 20-year career. It has also allowed him to stretch his wings and embrace his Puerto Rican roots.
“My grandmother used to be the queen of the kitchen,” Diaz Vales said. “She’d pull me into the kitchen and make me learn every recipe from heart.”
He recalls the importance of family and food during his childhood.
“Cooking for my family was a big deal. We would have big family meals every Sunday. Sometimes, even as a kid, I would cook a good portion of the meal. I’d just watch everyone eat, knowing that I’d put a piece of my heart into the food. That’s where my love of cooking came from.”
With this kind of atmosphere growing up, it’s no surprise a career in the culinary arts attracted him—much to the dismay of his mother.
“I went to culinary school in Puerto Rico before culinary school was cool,” he said. “My mom wasn’t happy about it, but she has since seen all the great things being a chef has brought to my life. She’s happy I found my place and something that brings me inspiration.”
Love for family, food, and culture
Family is important to Diaz Vales. He embraces his roots and shows it through the food he cooks and the way he lives his life, but there’s more to family.
“Family goes beyond just blood. It is your community and those around you. Everyone is my extended family. I love cooking for them, like when I was a kid cooking for my family.”
That includes everyone at Memorial Herman Southwest. For the past year, he has cooked up electrifying dishes that deliver new flavors to patients and retail diners. He’s made an impression on his guests, but they’ve also made an impression on him.
“Since starting at Morrison Healthcare, I have learned a new appreciation for what I do. People are here because they need to be here. If I can help them while they’re healing, it is a great feeling. I want to make them feel like they are not far from home and being taken care of.”
And his food is speaking volumes about his heritage and the love he has for diners.
To get a taste of the flavors that excited Chef Diaz Vales, here is a recipe for a Pastelón, which is a classic Puerto Rican dish made with layers of thinly sliced plantains, ground beef, and cheese. It’s like a Puerto Rican version of lasagna.