It started with the delivery of fresh eggs. Chef Tomas was around 14 at the time, given a job with his family’s business. He was raised in Morelos, one of the smallest states of Mexico, about an hour south of Mexico City. Accountants by trade, his family also owned farmland, where they grew tomatoes and raised egg-laying hens. As a teenager, Chef Tomas delivered crates of eggs to local restaurants in their town. He would wait by the kitchen door. Then, the chef would appear. Wearing a commandingly tall white hat, and with an air of authority, he would crack an egg, waiting to see if the yolk would hold. This is how freshness was determined. Tomas was always struck by these encounters. The chefs displayed so much dedication to their craft. And while he wasn’t necessarily interested in cooking just yet, this was his first step towards culinary arts. One delivery at a time. 


Three hours further south on the coast, Executive Chef Fernando grew up in Acapulco, Mexico, where his family owned Antonio’s Restaurant, whose menu featured dishes from his father’s Italian heritage. Chef Fernando grew up on the beach, surfing and eating a lot of fresh fish. Unlike Chef Tomas, Fernando doesn’t remember the first time he considered the life of a chef. It was just always there, a backdrop for his childhood. His family lived on the second floor above their restaurant. He remembers the way his father dedicated himself to the restaurant business. Before school, late at night, Chef Fernando remembers stopping by the restaurant with his father, who also taught him how to cook. 


Though miles—and years—away from Salt Lake City, both Chef Tomas and Executive Chef Fernando would follow their passions and instincts, which would lead them to a culinary team that fosters creativity and growth at The Grand America Hotel. 




From Acapulco to Salt Lake City: Executive Chef Fernando Takes the Lead


Chef Fernando first came to the United States as a teenager, moving to San Diego as a high school student in an attempt to immerse himself in the English language. He quickly realized that many San Diego teens also speak Spanish. 


The following summer, Chef Fernando traveled to Salt Lake City, where his older brother was working in the kitchen at Little America Hotel. Fernando initially found work at another downtown hotel just across the street. One day, picking up his brother from Little America, he was spotted by Chef Goetz, Little America’s Executive Chef for many years. On the spot, he offered Fernando a supervisory role on his staff, which Fernando, after some thought, accepted. 


He was 17 and still spoke very little English. Earning respect in the kitchen was challenging. Writing out the kitchen’s daily log in an unfamiliar language was even worse. He remembers how some of the older cooks would add extra salt to his soups, never entirely trusting his skill. A trial by fire that only his upbringing in the culinary world could’ve prepared him for, Chef Fernando stayed dedicated.


After a while, he left Little America to build his resume in other kitchens in Utah and around the country. Still, Salt Lake City had a special place in his mind, and he returned, helping to open The Grand America’s kitchen as a Sous Chef. 


Now the Executive Chef for all dining outlets, Chef Fernando is at the forefront of Salt Lake City’s culinary culture, expanding into new ventures and creating new menus based on the coastal Mexican cuisine he was raised with. 




Blazing a New Path: Chef Tomas Discovers His Passion for Cooking


Chef Tomas came to the United States at the start of his twenties, looking to continue his studies to become an accountant. At the time, he was determined to stay in the family business. 


When he learned that credits from his studies in Mexico wouldn’t easily transfer to American universities, he had to make a decision. Faced with a choice between starting his accounting degree from scratch or pivoting entirely, a friend recommended culinary school. Remembering his interest in the profession from an early age, Chef Tomas gave it a shot. 


He was 22, the tuition was costly, and the hours were long. He also had a young family to care for. He learned very quickly that this new dream would require the kind of dedication he’d first observed in the chefs he delivered eggs to back home in Morelos. 


After graduation, Chef Tomas blazed a path for himself in the hospitality industry. From cooking in high-end hotels in downtown Chicago to managing kitchens in some of the largest resorts in Florida, Chef Tomas developed his style of cooking the way an artist would practice their form. 


For him, the instinct is similar. Being a chef is being an artist. And, for him, inspiration comes from anywhere. From fine dining to street foods, Chef Tomas is discovering new flavors everywhere he goes. 



Leaving a Legacy: Creating a Culinary Team Like Nowhere Else


Chef Tomas remembers the first time he knew The Grand America was the right place for him. He was visiting from Florida and taking interviews at several of the top hotels and resorts in Salt Lake and Park City. As he was walking around downtown, he looked up to see the iconic white tower, singular in the skyline. It inspired something in him. Seeing it from that perspective, he knew there was no better place to bring his talents. 


Hired by Executive Chef Fernando, the two of them have since built a community of culinary experts unlike anything either of them has experienced before. They work together to change the culture of working in a fast-paced, high-pressure kitchen. “I don’t want my team only to say, ‘Oh, Chef Tomas was a good chef,’ no…” he clarifies, “I want them to remember, ‘Chef Tomas was a kind person. He really helped me.’” 


It’s not only a positive and collaborative environment, it’s a kitchen committed to the success of all its members. “I don’t want to train cooks,” says Chef Tomas, “I want to create chefs.” 


When asked what inspires them and what they look forward to in their careers, both chefs talk about building “a legacy.” They want to leave something for their teams that goes beyond any singular dish or menu. “My team is my inspiration,” Chef Tomas says, “because they are not in the past or in the future; they are actual.” 


Staying in the present moment is also important to Executive Chef Fernando. For him, being a chef requires the dedication to be a life-long learner. He’s always testing new ideas and paying attention to what surrounds him in each moment. 


Leaving a legacy extends to their home kitchens, too. When not leading the team at The Grand America, both chefs enjoy cooking for and with their families. Chef Fernando’s son, for example, is currently mastering the art of cooking a big family breakfast. 



Take It From the Chefs—Try the Branzino 


Asked on separate occasions, both chefs had the same answer for their favorite dish on Laurel Brasserie & Bar’s menu: the Branzino. A dish of Greek origins, Chef Fernando was inspired by his travels to visit family in the Mediterranean when composing this dish. 


Chef Tomas adds that the quality of the product is unsurpassed, as the Brazino is being flown in directly from Greece. The bed of rice this fresh fish is served on also comes from authentic Turkish and Greek flavors. 


It’s a dish that represents Laurel’s commitment to bringing an American take on European cooking, but it’s also a dish straight from the heart of Chef Fernando and Chef Tomas, whose vision makes Laurel a standalone dining experience in the heart of Salt Lake City.