Fans will be watching fearless chef Miguel Aguilar giving it his all in Tuesday's finale of Esquire TV’s show “Knife Fight.”
The Peruvian chef, owner of his own Brooklyn, New York-based restaurant Surfish Bistro, has had quite the trajectory. He first arrived in New York, from his home in Lima, Peru, after competing in a surfing tournament in Hawaii in 1992. He had no money in his pocket and no formal culinary education, but fast forward to 2011 and he was competing with four of the country's best chefs and won first place in Food Network’s “Chopped.” Now, four years later, he's in the spotlight again.
In the past few episodes battling 16 of New York City’s top chefs, Aguilar has managed to make masterpieces out of ingredients given to him - which by the way are not for the faint of heart. The dishes he's had to prepare include an adobado cooked amid snapping turtles. For the finale, viewers will watch Aguilar prepare alligator against world-renowned chef Edi Frauneder.
“They give you an hour, and you have no idea what the ingredients will be,” says Aguilar, who consistently manages to impress the judges. “You have five minutes to think what you are going to do...’Chopped’ was also hard because you don’t know the ingredients, but here there are no rules - you get to be yourself - they let you bring your own condiments and tools so it’s easier to highlight your style.”
What contributes to his signature eclectic, yet traditional Peruvian, style?
“I surf in the morning, and I cook at night,” says the 47-year-old husband and father of two young boys, who started his career as a chef 18 years ago.
“I started as a dishwasher, a busboy, a bartender, a waiter, and then I realized I loved cooking. I was working for Bobby Flay at Mesa Grill, and he gave me an opportunity to work in the kitchen as a chef. I learned to cook there.”
In 2011, after three years under Flay’s guidance, Aguilar left to open up his own restaurant specializing in Peruvian cuisine and seafood.
Although he says his biggest inspiration has been Bobby Flay, he also credits his father - who he describes as “a great cook and ceviche man” for his very first memories in the kitchen.
Aguilar shares that he’s very shy in real life.
“I don’t even talk,” he says. “I’m a very quiet person, but when I’m cooking, I’m a totally different person - I’m very competitive.”
He’s already dreaming up his next feats after “Knife Fight.”
“My goal is to open Surfish II featuring rotisserie chicken with no msg and free-range. I want it to be family oriented with good food, good prices...There is also a new show coming out on the Food Network called ‘Beat Bobby Flay’ - maybe I will do that,” he says, laughing in his kind manner.
Aguilar says to have been able to open his own restaurant has personally been his greatest accomplishment.
“I opened my first restaurant at the same time I had my first baby - it’s like a dream come true,” he says. “Half of my life I’ve been in the U.S., and I’m really living the American Dream. Everything is possible, and I’m proving it. It’s a great country. I’m happy.”