JACKSON, Wyo. — Luis Beristain has none of the ego of a TV chef.
Sipping water at a table at Osteria, where he is the executive chef, he’s visibly nervous to be interviewed by a reporter and talk about himself. He tried to prepare but has no idea how. He’s never done this before.
But it doesn’t take long for his expertise to shine through. Once he starts talking about food, and his team at Osteria, and his culinary hopes and dreams, Beristain is an open book.
Chef Beristain has been cooking in some capacity since he was 15. His career chose him more than he chose it. Life continually nudged him down the path of chef-hood from the time he first moved to Jackson 13 years ago.
But that’s not to say he didn’t work for it, or that he doesn’t love it. Now 28 years old, Beristain is obsessed with food.
“I’ve been at Osteria for 11 years and I don’t get bored,” he says. He proudly admits that he doesn’t know everything, but that’s what keeps his job interesting.
“There is still way more to learn,” he says.
Beristain’s humility is obvious in the way he tells his story: it’s hardly about him. Instead, it’s about everyone he’s ever learned from. First on the list: his parents.
“Without my mom and dad, I would not be here,” he says. “I don’t know where I’d be.”
His culinary career began in a kitchen with his dad. He was 15 and had just moved to Jackson from Mexico. He was eager to help his family however he could. At the time, that meant making salads in the restaurant where his dad worked when he wasn’t in school.
He got caught, but that only helped him. The restaurant started paying him, and soon enough he found himself in other kitchens. Camille Parker at Nani’s (the old Italian restaurant where Gloretta’s is now) was his first culinary mentor. Oscar Ortega, the renowned chocolatier and pastry chef, also taught him a lot. Then, Beristain found his way into Fine Dining Restaurant Group at Osteria.
“[Osteria] welcomed me and gave me the opportunity to try new things,” Beristain says.
Beristain flourished under the freedom Osteria offered. He was promoted to Sous Chef and finally Executive Chef six years ago.
He sees his job now as more educational than authoritative. His title is just that — a title. “I’m just Luis and I’m helping my team,” he says. The difference is that even though he’s still learning every day, he’s also teaching. He manages an average of 26 people in his kitchen year-round, and he’s devoted to each and every one of them.
“I tell [my staff,] ‘I want you to be the next me. You’re the next guy to run the kitchen.”
He loves when one of his chefs can teach him something new or come up with a new menu idea. It’s the freedom Beristain has thrived in, and he owes the same to his staff.
“Don’t be afraid to come to me with any dish, or be afraid to ask for help,” he says.
Plenty of Chef Beristain’s favorite dishes are the result of happy accidents. Cooking is as much an art as it is a science, and cooks are like painters. Give a painter a brush and paint, Beristain says, and they’ll come up with something beautiful — be it simple or intricate, it’s still art. Food is the same way.
“You give me ingredients, and already my mind is working,” he says.
It’s why he loves Italian food. “The simplest ingredients make the best things.”And while many of Beristain’s ingredients are simple, they’re also thoughtful. Beristain looks for the best and the freshest ingredients, often regionally. “I like to know where I’m getting things first,” he says. “I’m always looking at where it’s coming from, how they’re farming my veggies, how they’re raising the cows. That’s where the flavor comes from, too.”
Have produce that’s only in season for two weeks? “Send it to me, I’ll make a special,” Beristain says. The fresher, the better.
Chances are you’ve seen Chef Beristain out at one of the many community events Osteria participates in. He goes to as many as he can. He says it’s his way of thanking his community.
“Of course we do businesses with the tourists, but we wouldn’t be Osteria without all the locals,” he says. “I just feel those events are for the community. So let’s go, let’s show people that we’re here for them, too.”
Apparently Beristain and his team have so much fun at community events, people have approached him to ask for a job afterward. So, that’s a plus.
Of course, Beristain doesn’t spend every waking hour (though arguably a large majority) cooking. He’s a Jacksonite, after all, so the piece of his heart that doesn’t belong to food belongs to the mountains.
“I have way too many things to do in this town,” he says. His favorites are mountain biking, hiking, and working on cars.
He’s most proud of knowing his parents are proud. Seeing his name on the menu was one of the defining moments of his career so far, he says. And he’ll likely never stop trying to be the best chef he can be.
“The harder you work, the more you can accomplish,” Beristain says. “The bigger you grow.”