We have a gem amongst us in Otsego County: meet Chile native Nelson Modaca, a 20-year Marine vet and rising culinary star.
Spoiler alert: he plans on opening a French-infused restaurant in our area in 2023!
Mr. Modaca is making a name for himself in the Hospitality and Culinary school at SUNY Delhi. He’s taking an honors class every semester in addition to his current academic schedule. He’s pushing himself to be the best; he will have a bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts Management in May 2023.
“My ultimate goal is to open a restaurant when I graduate in May of 2023,” Mr. Modaca said. “We are looking in the Cherry Valley area. I’m looking for something that isn’t huge, that has a good space that I’d like to work in. And it will most likely be a classical French Bistro.”
Mr. Modaca lived in his native Chile until age 10. “My family then moved to New Jersey, then to Miami so I finished my education at the University of Miami,” he said.
Operation Desert Storm interrupted his education, though, when he enlisted in the United States Marines.
“I left college to go into the Marines for a four-year stint as my call of duty during Desert Storm,” he said. “Before I knew it, almost twenty years had gone by and I was still in the Marines.”
“I got shot in the stomach and was sent home,” he said. “I retired in 2010.” And for the next ten years, he spent put himself back together again.
“I had twelve surgeries since then, plus I was dealing with PTSD,” he recalled. “It was a lot.”
While dealing with PTSD, he noticed he was spending a lot of time in the kitchen. “I always liked cooking but I realized I was using cooking as a type of therapy, and I loved it,” he said.
“I used cooking as a type of medication to relax. I’d get lost in the kitchen for hours,” he said. “Three years ago, when I turned 50, I knew I was ready to go back to school. I felt that my mind was finally ready with everything I’d gone through. My personal issues were taken care of.”
Prior studies focused on business administration, but this time, he chose to enroll in SUNY Delhi’s culinary school.
“My first course was on hot plates,” he said. “The designing, the presentation and the creativity really interested me. So I changed my status for getting an AA degree to a full time degree in becoming a chef.”
His course load this semester includes a competition class. It’s all about competing, creating menus, designing the plates.
“I was nominated for student chef of the year so I will be competing in 2022 with other students from around the country,” he said. “I’m taking tons of classes right now as well as being in the kitchen from 9:30 until 1 working on menu planning and other things for the competition.”
All of the extra classes are paying off — just won a Gold Medal from The American Culinary Federation for his hot plate creation. The Niagara Falls event brought in competitors from all across the country.
“I went there to compete on the student level last weekend and I won!. It’s quite an honor,” Mr. Modaca said.
“Physically and mentally I feel great, I can move up to the next level. I want to do what I love from here on out. I want to keep the fun in it! I f I won’t eat it, I don’t want anyone else to eat it!