Foodie Neil Fuentes heaps more on his TV platter
NEW HAVEN, Apr 14, 2012 (New Haven Register - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Like a perfect souffle, the ingredients of Neil Fuentes' life are coming together and rising in glorious fashion.
You might know Fuentes as New Haven's "singing chef," whose TV appearances on WTNH's "Connecticut Style" are little extravaganzas all their own. Or you might know him as the personable bar manager at Pacifico. And then there's his 12-piece salsa orchestra, Sonido Libre.
Well, here's something to trump them all. Fuentes, 42, is starring in a national advertising campaign for Sabra Hummus on the Food Network. It includes TV commercials that roll out any day now, plus a series of Internet webisodes in which Fuentes will take viewer recipes and spice them up with a bit of Venezuelan flair.
He's filmed one webisode already, taking a routine potato salad and giving it the Fuentes touch.
"Trust me, nothing is going to stop me," Fuentes says, settling into his sunny kitchen in Morris Cove. "My goal is to have my own show on the Food Network."
It's not such a stretch, considering his career trajectory up to this point.
Fuentes grew up on his family's large farm in Venezuela, starting his culinary tutelage at the age of six. "There was nothing artificial in our kitchen, including cheese," he explains. "That's how I began experimenting with food."
He went to college in Caracas, studying modern languages, and then got a job working for an airline as a flight attendant.
He traveled the world. In the process, he sampled and tried his hand at international cuisines in Rome, Frankfurt, Lisbon and London.
After moving to America in the mid-1990s, Fuentes switched to the food industry. He progressed from waiter to head of special event planning and training for the SBC restaurant chain.
One of his gigs for SBC was a literacy event in Milford. That's where he came to the attention of folks at WTNH, who called him one day to ask if he could fill in for a "Connecticut Style" guest who had canceled.
And a singing chef was born.
"I wore my Ricky Ricardo outfit and did an eggplant and goat cheese canape," he says. He's been on the show more than two dozen times since then.
"Neil's personality is what it is," says Billy DiCrosta, Fuentes' husband. "He has all-encompassing talents and a great way with people."
Actually, serendipitous connections always seem to be happening to Fuentes. It's how he landed the Food Network job, in fact.
He happened to run into New Haven chef Bun Lai of Miya's Sushi and asked him about his experience as a contestant on the show, "Chopped." Their conversation led Chef Bun to put Fuentes in contact with people at the Food Network.
And THAT led to an audition for "Sabra Recipe Makeover." He's one of three personalities in the campaign, along with Food Network chefs Maneet Chauhan and Chris Cheung.
"It's a whole year," Fuentes says. "Fans will submit recipes. If you win, the three of us will re-invent your recipe."
He even gets to sing in some of the commercials, too.
Call Jim Shelton at 203-789-5664 or visit his blog at www.thejimbolist.com. To receive breaking news first aEUR' simply text the word nhnews to 22700. *Msg & Data Rates May Apply. Text HELP for help. Text STOP to cancel.
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