Carlos Rodriguez Larrain Placido
and Carlos Rodriguez Larrain Herrera
Catering Kitchen & Pool
When you meet Carlos Rodriguez, the first thing you notice about him is his mischievous smile. It starts out like a tickle at the edge of his mouth then quickly radiates across his entire face until everyone nearby is embraced by the same glee. Even if the joke is on you, and it often is, you cannot help but be charmed by Carlos.
This description refers to a 22-year old Hart House lifeguard and U of T student, but it could apply equally to another Carlos Rodriguez—his father who is a chef at Hart House. Let’s refer to Carlos the younger as “Carlos” and to Carlos the elder as “Señor Rodriguez” or “SeñorR.”
Carlos started working at Hart House while still in high school. When asked what it was like growing up, Carlos says his dad’s approach to parenting was “Teach your children as many things as possible.”
He and his sister took lessons in karate, dance, gymnastics, piano, tuba, guitar, violin, swimming, skiing, snowboarding, and skating to name a few. It was a flurry of school and activities and the result is that Carlos, like his dad, “knows something about everything.”
He is fluent in both French and Spanish, has a black belt, is an accomplished swimmer, plays multiple musical instruments, and is the resident expert on Bollywood films. He loves any film that is “intelligently written and makes you think and wonder.”
SeñorR, on the other hand, only needs one film. He first saw it when he was 9-years-old and has watched it every year since: “The Ten Commandments. It teaches us how to handle everyday life. What we have to do. What we don’t have to do. It says don’t kill. So we don’t kill.”
Lucky for Hart House, SeñorR knows more about cooking than he does about films. A good chef can take a few fresh ingredients, some spices and flavourings and create a spectacular meal as if by magic. A good storyteller can weave together a few narrative threads and take his listeners on a journey they’ve never experienced and certainly never expected. SeñorR can do both. For him, language and food are inextricable intertwined.
He arrived in Canada from Peru with virtually no English and applied for a job at a large hotel. The manager asked him what type of work he was looking for.
SeñorR replied, “Yeah.”
The manager probed further—“Porter, valet, front desk, kitchen?”
“So kitchen work,” said the Manager. “Can you cook?”
“Do you have experience?” asked the Manager.
A week later, having understood nothing that the manager had asked, SeñorR found himself in charge of the kitchen, and it was quite literally trial by fire. Luckily the “salad girl,” Bernice, took pity on him and exchanged English lessons for help with prepping vegetables.
Twenty-five years of hotel experience later and armed with a degree in Culinary Management, SeñorR joined Marco Tucci’s catering team at Hart House where he has worked for the past 12 years. His position has ensured that his children will get an education. Something that wasn’t so certain for him when he first left home to pursue a degree in Industrial Engineering in Columbia.
He was given free board at a friend’s home, but had to leave after a few months. Alone in a foreign country with only a part-time job, he slept in the park and used the river to bathe and wash clothes. He sold lottery tickets door-to-door. One day, he decided to expand his territory to a nearby town, but when he arrived, was shocked by the level of poverty. He knocked on a door and was invited in and served lemon water. His hosts had a TV, furniture, radio and other comforts.
When he returned to his “home” in the park, he realized, “I had nothing. Sometimes I eat, sometimes I don’t. I saw myself. I’m more poor than they are. From now on I have to work hard, study and take care of my life. I was 21 at the time.“
Life at university is much easier for Carlos. He works hard, but enjoys his downtime, which is often spent at Hart House. He says, “It’s different from anywhere else on campus.” He likes to go to the games room to play pool.
SeñorR perks up at this, “Pool? You play pool here? You play with me sometime!”
At age 15, SeñorR was quite the pool shark and was earning a good sum—until the police caught him and cut off all his hair. In Peru, a shorn head indicates a run-in with the law. When he returned home, his mother took one look at him and said, “Now you know.”
“That’s my dad,” says Carlos.