The Recipe for Success: Arizona chef receives rare award

By Allison Brown

Robson Resort Communities’ Quail Creek luxury resort community’s Chef Adolfo “Aris” Cabrera was inducted into the American Academy of Chefs, a prestigious honor society of the American Culinary Federation with only a handful of chosen chefs in the country. 

“It’s an honor, for sure. It fills my heart quite a bit, because I started as a junior and to see all this accomplished, it’s the culmination of all the things that I did, not just as a chef but in the community and helping raise money for scholarships, raise money for local benefits, and so many things,” Cabrera says.

“To be recognized on the national level, not just the local chapters, with this group of members, of people who are master chefs, it’s an honor. It’s really unbelievable to be part of this selected group.”

According to the American Academy of Chefs, the American Culinary Federation represents the highest standards of professionalism in the organization, society and industry. The academy’s primary mission is to promote the education of all culinarians by mentoring culinarians, awarding scholarships to students seeking a future in the culinary industry and by providing grants to professional working chefs looking to further their career. 

In order for Cabrera to even be considered for the federation, he had to be nominated and meet a list of requirements including obtaining certain certifications, winning awards, being active in the community and having at least 15 years of experience in the culinary profession.

It’s a rare award. Only eight people are being awarded this year. The reward is even sweeter for Cabrera, who had humble beginnings and never really anticipated becoming a chef.

The Grill, a restaurant at the Robson Resort Communities’ Quail Creek resort community, where Adolfo “Aris” Cabrera currently works as the executive chef. (Evolve Marketing/submitted)

Cabrera came to Arizona from Mexico when he was 20. He says when he was in college, he wanted a break and a friend helped get him a gig as a dishwasher at Rio Rico Resort to make some extra money. But once he started, Cabrera says he liked it so much he never went back — and it worked out pretty well for him.

“I was a dishwasher for two years, and a chef came to me and asked if I wanted to learn more,” Cabrera says. “So, he showed me some recipes and I was really quick at learning them. He gave me more, and the more I learned the more he gave me.”

Within a short period of time, Cabrera became the official pastry chef for the resort, making the resort’s bread rolls, cookies, pies and cakes — just about anything yeast or dessert related. He worked as the pastry chef for three years before that same chef recommended him for an apprenticeship.

Eager to learn more, Cabrera accepted and spent three years studying at Pima Community College and got his certification as a cook. He did competitions at the local and state level, winning a variety of medals and awards, including junior chef of the year. During that time, he also continued working at Rio Rico Resort and was able to move up the ladder.

Later, Cabrera got hired as a sous chef at a resort in Sedona and lived there for two years before moving back to Tucson to work at a DoubleTree Hotel as lead director and executive sous chef. Cabrera worked there for five years before transitioning to his current position at the Quail Creek country club. During his time at the DoubleTree, Cabrera went back to the chef association to continue his own learning, teach others and help the community.

“I was very involved. We did a lot of fundraisers, got a lot of new members, did a lot of local events, did food presentations for students. I was the secretary, treasury, vice president and president during all those five years until I got my current position,” he says.

Then, Cabrera went back to Pima Community College to teach and has been doing that off and on for years. He says while he is busy, he always tries to make time for it because he enjoys giving back to the new generations. Giving back is something Cabrera made a priority without really thinking about it. He credits his mentors for encouraging him to get involved when he started out and remembers how others helped him.

“Giving back, I realized that my heart got warm, and it was a nice feeling. It’s different from when you prepare a very nice dish and the customer asks you to come to the table and says, ‘This is the best meal ever,’” Cabrera explains.

“That’s a very nice feeling, but this, on the other side, is so different. I always just thought I need to give back to the community, without really thinking about it or anything. I guess there were people who helped me, and I always remembered that and I wanted to be able to help other people.”

Cabrera currently works as the executive chef at The Grill, a restaurant at the Robson Resort Communities’ Quail Creek resort community. His drive to give back to the community carries over to his job there, where he has created a close relationship with the members. He says the menu there is not really his menu; he listens to the members about what they want and gets creative with it. More than that, Cabrera says it is a great place to work and the staff there has always been supportive of his work.

“They’re very proud of me, and they tell me all the time,” he says about the Quail Creek community. “I have to say that I’m very lucky to be working in this community because right from the beginning they’ve been very welcoming. They support me a lot.”

Cabrera was officially inducted into the federation in a formal ceremony at the American Culinary Federation’s national convention in Las Vegas July 26.