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    6 Questions with Qdoba Executive Chef Katy Velazquez

  • "The reason I got into food is because I love taking care of people," she says.

    Qdoba
    Velazquez says she was was brought on at Qdoba "because the team really wants to be known for flavor."

    I fell in love with cooking when I went to college and had to start feeding myself. I really enjoyed feeding people, and I found the act of cooking itself to be really relaxing. I didn’t think I wanted to work in kitchens, so I started a business as a personal chef where I was cooking out of my home and then delivering meals to families.

    I got a prep cook job because I thought I would learn to make a lot of different dishes, sauces, and other things for my own business in my kitchen. Then I realized that I found it pretty lonely to work alone at my house all the time. I just fell in love with hospitality and the people. I had no idea jobs like the one I have now even existed when I started out in food.

    Jill Adams, Qdoba’s VP of marketing, was watching TV one night and she saw me on an episode of “Beat Bobby Flay.” She sent a video of me on the show to our CEO, Keith Guilbault, and he sent me a message on LinkedIn. I didn’t actually see the message for around two months because I don’t usually go on LinkedIn.

    I was brought on at Qdoba because the team really wants to be known for flavor. It’s about owning flavor—we think we have that capability, and that’s what I was brought here to do. The first way that we’re tackling that is by working on refreshing all our salsas. When you think of great Mexican food, you think of the taco, the meat, and the fresh salsa on top, so we’re looking at ways of evolving those salsa recipes right now.

    I come from restaurants and not a quick-service background, so learning the process of how new products are rolled out for Qdoba is completely new to me. I’m used to a much quicker turnaround, but this is a really exciting process.

    The reason I got into food is because I love taking care of people, and I think that, in the quick-service industry, I’m able to feed so many more people than in fine dining.

    Quick serve is so much more egalitarian in terms of who I’m able to feed and take care of every day, and that’s an incredible feeling, because who doesn’t love being taken care of?

    What was your first job?

    My first cooking job was working as a prep cook at a restaurant called Wit and Wisdom, which was a Michael Mina restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland.

    What’s your favorite menu item at Qdoba?

    We’re known for doing a really outstanding job with our queso. I can’t take credit for it—it was in place long before I was with the company—but it’s incredible and delicious.

    What’s your favorite cuisine aside from Mexican or Tex-Mex? I love Italian food. I think there is very little better than a beautifully homemade pasta.

    Who inspires you as a leader? When I worked for Rick Bayless, there was a woman on staff named Jennifer Fite, and no title could encompass what she does. She was and is an incredible mentor. She is incredibly kind, but can be tough as nails when she needs to be, and she would never ask you to do something she wouldn’t do herself.

    What’s the best piece of advice that other chefs and restaurant executives should hear?

    If you work hard and have a great attitude, doors will just fly open for you. Especially in our industry, people are always willing to teach someone who’s excited to learn.

    What are some of your interests outside of work?

    My wife and I love antiquing, and we also love food. We love going out to restaurants, cooking, and entertaining.