Celebrating 45 years!
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Chef Billy Hazra
Billy Hazra, is a 32 year old first-generation Indian American who has been the Executive Chef at The British Bankers Club in Menlo Park, CA for the past 3 years.
The journey he took to be where he is was definitely off the beaten path. Billy grew up in a household with immigrant parents, which was challenging. His parents had ingrained in their minds a very different life than the life that was waiting for him outside of their home. Back then, his life was a constant push and pull from two opposing cultures; one strict and conservative, the other free and explorative. It became increasingly difficult for him to form his identity as these two cultures pulled harder. Life was fairly dull until he realized what bound the two cultures together, binding his identity as well; FOOD. His mother would always cook this incredible Northern Indian and Bengali food. She was considered the best ‘cook’ in the Indian community they were surrounded by. People would always talk about her food. It was inspiring.
He realized though, as she continued living in the U.S., her cooking shifted from being completely traditional to much more diversified. This was the turning point for Billy. The realization that in some regard, his parents were adapting and embracing the “American Culture” via consumption. Food at that point was not only the bridge that connected the two cultures in his life, it was also the vehicle that enabled him to move between them.
Going into college Billy made a wholesale shift from taking the path of medicine to devoting himself to the inspiration of food. His career was built from being self taught and being surrounded by amazing mentors that he met throughout the years. His food philosophy has certainly grown and is still what guides him.
Chef Hazra believes that "Food is an essential component to life. In more ways than one, food can transform who we are, what we want to be, and what we become. It is the catalyst that drives our physical attributes, fueling our everyday desires. It is the story that shapes our cultural roots, fostering our sense of nostalgia. We celebrate our achievements with food as much as we mourn our losses. Food enables us to live and connect as individuals, as neighbors, and as a community."
As a part of this community, Chef Hazra said he was thrilled to be a part of this year's Chefs of Compassion: Cooking for a Cause, and to join the fight against hunger and homelessness!
Chef A.J. Szenda
Born and raised in New England, A.J. Szenda knew at a very young age that he would be a chef. As a teenager, long before the rise of celebrity chefs, A.J. studied the techniques of Jaques Pepin and Julia Childs through public television and books. He often practiced classic recipes, relying on his younger brothers as food critics. He applied to the Culinary Institute of America when he was 14, but was politely told he had to finish high school first. As an eager student, with an agenda, he worked nights and weekends in local restaurants before finally being accepted to CIA, shortly after graduating high school.
Upon Graduation, in 1987, A.J. left New England and headed West. After visits to Los Angeles, Napa and San Francisco he landed in Saratoga…and it felt like home. The next 10+ years A.J. honed his skills at Le Mouton Noir, The Plumed Horse (as Sous Chef then Executive Chef) and Viaggio (as Executive Chef/Partner). The Almaden Golf & Country Club, as Executive Chef for 7 years, was the next stop in A.J.’s culinary journey,
overseeing all culinary operations. Here he enjoyed spoiling members with cooking classes, wine dinners and countless themed dining events.
In 2012 Chef A.J. joined Apple’s chef team in Cupertino, feeding 15,000+ hungry Apple employees daily. He was one of the opening Senior Executive Chefs of Apple Park in 2017, offering over 20 dining concepts on the state of the art campus.
Today, Chef A.J. is the Culinary Director for Bon Appeitit Management Company, at Palo Alto Networks. He considers himself a mentor, and a teacher of sorts, for aspiring cooks learning the trade.
While working in fine dining restaurants, Chef A.J. had opportunities to travel to France, Switzerland and Italy…gaining even more love and respect for food and culture. Each trip was a dream-like, food-focused learning experience. One such trip resulted in a wedding proposal to his wife, Stacey!
Over the years Chef A.J. has shared his time and talent with many organizations, and is honored to give back to his local community. Hard work, giving, and sharing are in his DNA. Organizations like the Salvation Army, March of Dimes, American Heart Association and many local organizations have enjoyed his food over the years.
Chef A.J. loves what he does, and is proud to be a chef. “It’s not just a job, it’s a way of life. Almost forty years in the industry has proven that!”
When he is not behind the stove, or creating, or teaching, he is enjoying relaxation time with his wife Stacey, daughter Melissa, son Sage and dog Evee…usually at the beach!
Chef Leonardo Ramirez
Chef Leonardo (Leo) Ramirez, grew up in the beautiful Amazon Jungles of Peru, near San Fernando. His childhood was spent with birds, animals, plants, fresh organic produce, fruits and the bounty of the Amazon Rain Forest. He and his siblings were raised in an environment of community that grew their own vegetables, made their own cheese, baked their own breads. Food was made with fresh harvests from their own farms and catches from the river and jungles. The farm hands and farmers would all join in with his family for breakfast, lunch and dinner and sit together around the hearth in a circle to share stories and food with each other at every meal. All meals were shared and enjoyed as a community. The produce and meats were fresh, nutritious, flavorful, and made with heart. In Chef Leo’s words “the food was not just farm to table, it was even better, it was farm to pot. No pesticides and no fertilizers.”. Playing around the hearth with his brothers and sisters Chef Leo watched the elders in his family cook meals and a seed of interest sprouted.
At 16, he moved to Lima for further education and soon he was serving in the residence of the Governor’s Presidential Palace, where he got exposed to a whole different type of sophisticated cooking with the chefs at the Palace. These contrasting experiences gave Chef Leo abundance of inspirations to create his own dishes, following the traditions of his ancestors and experimenting with new flavors. The combination of these rustic flavors and tastes from his childhood, combined with the sophisticated cooking, became his hallmark.
He moved to the Bay Area and soon joined hands with a start up. Chef Leo believes food should be fresh, nutritious packed with flavors. Just like back home! Whatever Chef Leo does he does it with his heart, and loves sharing his ancestor’s tradition with other parts of the world. Chef Leo founded The Charapa Project, and received the Good Food Award, 2021, for his Aji Amarillo Sauce. His products can be found in specialty’s stores throughout the Bay Area, including Epicurean Trader, Berkeley Bowls, Sigona’s Farmers Market, Piazza’s Market and various other specialty stores.