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The Lodge's Jose Luis Nieto: On Leadership, His Most Popular Recipe and His Ultimate Dream

Yesterday, we asked Jose Luis Nieto, executive chef at The Lodge, to tell us about himself, how he got his start, and the special challenges of cooking gourmet-quality food at a gentleman's club. Today, he offers more of a window into how he approaches his craft and what he still dreams about accomplishing.

What is your approach to managing your team in the kitchen? I like to tell my guys to always be working as one, trying to maintain a consistent technique and philosophy about what we cook. It's important to cook in the same way for all the customers. Let's make sure we're using the freshest ingredients. I also always stress to my team to work in a highly clean area. That's so true especially if you are working in a kitchen that can be seen by the customers. I love it when those customers can smell the garlic coming from the kitchen and I get compliments for that.

What are some of the things that give you the most pleasure as a professional cook? I love the constant challenges presented by the kitchen and each day at the restaurant. I love being under that kind of kitchen-style pressure. It is the only way to feel successful.

What is the recipe that your customers most often ask you to divulge? Believe it or not, they want to know about my different soups that I come up with. Particularly popular is our Southwest Texas chili, which is really a soup, a Cajun seafood gumbo, and the tomato crab bisque.

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You still have an ultimate career dream? Of course, it would be to have my own restaurant, serving a mix of Italian cooking, seafood and, of course, steaks -- all three areas where I can really put some big flavors into them. If I had that restaurant, and you were one of my customers, I would make it a point of coming up to you and personally asking you how is the food tasting tonight, how is the service treating you. I would all but sit next to you and ask you this because it would be that important to me to know the kind of experience you are having in my restaurant.

And as your family remains so important to you, your daughter would play a definite role in your own restaurant? Oh yes, my daughter, who attends U.T.A. and wants to be an architect or an engineer, has already volunteered to do the first designs for the restaurant -- all in her particular style.

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