Pasquel Solé was only a youngster when he first got the urge to cook.
Solé, 55, was named executive chef at the Holiday Inn-Downtown about three weeks ago and already has plans to take the hotel’s cuisine to the next level.
But long before he ever donned the white jacket of an executive chef, Solé was influenced by his mother’s and grandmother’s cooking, as well as their sense of style.
Growing up in western New York near Buffalo, he came from a blue-collar family who appreciated good food and good company.
Solé said it was customary that all dinners were stylish, family events.
“I remember how my grandmother would weave a tapestry of elegance for every meal,” he said. “Even if it was a regular Monday night meal, the table was always dressed, water glasses set and homemade wine was served.”
Coming from a large family, Solé said it was obligatory that the porch light was always illuminated to welcome visitors if they arrived.
His first paying job was as a cook at a western New York country club.
But his uncle owned a restaurant and the youngster cut his culinary teeth by busing tables and doing prep work.
“I started from the ground up,” he said.
Solé attended the State University of New York at Buffalo as well as the Culinary Institute of America.
Having been in the restaurant industry for nearly 30 years, Solé has gained extensive experience in managing all aspects of food service.
Most recently, Solé was the director of food and beverage at the Sheraton Waterside Hotel, Norfolk, Va.
Prior to that, he served as executive chef at Omni Hotels and Resorts, Charlotte, N.C.
The award-winning chef also has had stints in Las Vegas, Houston, Los Angeles and Lake Norman, N.C.
There were a number of reasons that convinced Solé to take the Johnstown job after being contacted.
“The reason I’m here is because of meeting and talking to the management team and ownership,” he said. “I was looking for a position that was more satisfying in a place that is genuinely friendly and safe.”
In his new position, Solé oversees all aspects of food service at the Holiday Inn including managing the kitchen that services Harrigan’s Café & Wine Deck, banquets, outside catering and private events.
After only a few weeks on the job, he is convinced he has made the right decision.
In other places he has worked like Las Vegas, Houston or Los Angeles, when someone wished him a good morning, the expression carried little weight.
“In big cities, everyone is in a rush,” he said. “Here, when someone says good morning, they look you right in the eye and they truly mean it.”
While his responsibilities are all encompassing, such as administrative duties, including ordering supplies and working closely with the hotel’s general manager, Clay Smith, Solé treasures time with his family.
Solé lives in Westmont with his wife, Linda, and the couple’s two Maltese dogs.
When asked about his philosophy in the kitchen, his first priority was absolute cleanliness.
“I’m a stickler for preparing food in clean surroundings and using only fresh ingredients,” he said.
Solé wants to ensure that quality dishes are served on schedule, and he addresses any problems that may arise.
He has taken a dish from each locale or culture where he has worked and incorporated it into his menu.
“I like what I have found so far,” Solé said. “I’m in the process of developing ways to introduce more French and Italian cuisine onto the menu.”
Solé has specific goals for Harrigan’s, which is located at 250 Market St.
He knows the cardinal sin for any chef is settling for anything less than the best.
“When people place their order, I want to see the delivery of fresh food to each table in an expedient manner,” he said.
“No customer should have to languish at a table waiting for their food.”
His favorite dish is eggplant melanzane Italiano, which he expects to introduce to a revamped menu in January.
But the meal he considers his signature dish is paella.
Paella is regarded as one of southern Spain’s identifying symbols.
“I enjoy incorporating ingredients such rice, mussels, shrimp or lobster in a seafood paella,” he said. “Other key ingredients are saffron and olive oil.”
Solé is responsible for approving all prepared food items that leave the kitchen.
“I haven’t reached the pinnacle of cooking as yet,” he said.
Solé also plans to visit area schools to discover what children would enjoy on a kids’ menu and have them submit recipes.
“We will pick some of the top recipes and cook them together,” he said. “We will invite their families to be the first to sample the dishes.”
When asked about how many hours he works a week, he said that isn’t a concern.
“It’s supply and demand,” he said about putting in the hours necessary to do the job.
Solé goal is to bring a new level of high quality and high value dining to the Holiday Inn-Downtown.
His favorite spice is chervil, which is a delicate annual herb related to parsley.
With people being more health-conscious, Solé said he can meet any challenge.
“We make select salads that can be served as a main dish because they have such body and taste explosion that it will make a person forget that there are no carbohydrates in the dish,” he said.
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