Rémy Martin 1738 Sidecar:

A Cocktail And Conversation with Chef Kelvin Fernandez

We sat down with Chef Kelvin who lays it all out on the table—his career, his passions, his dreams—metaphorically speakeing. 

By Brian Martinez
Illustration by Patty Gibboney


I’m back with another segment of A Cocktail & Conversation with a new guest and a new cocktail that I just recently learned how to concoct.

My colleague Collin and I spent the last two weeks safely hand-delivering meals and cocktail kits to influencers in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami to celebrate Rémy Martin’s 1738 #SidecarSeptember campaign. Knowing that the pandemic has hit us all hard, but especially the restaurant industry, the program functioned as both support for local business accounts in each of the markets and to provide a little pick me up to the influencers in our network.

Served in a coupe glass, this cocktail is quick and easy to make but also very refreshing and tasty. It’s the perfect cocktail to enjoy with friends and family. Show us how you put it all together using the hashtag #SidecarSeptember. Make sure to have fun with it and add your own twist if you’d like!

Rémy Martin 1738 Sidecar

Cocktail Ingredients
· Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal
· Cointreau
· Lemons

Shake 2 oz. of Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal with ¾ oz. Cointreau and ¾ oz. Lemon Juice with ice. Strain and serve in coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

A Glance into Kelvin’s Kitchen: A Conversation with Chef Kelvin Fernandez

With great success comes great responsibility and for Chef Kelvin Fernandez that statement rings very true. Growing up in the projects in New York City was a huge challenge, even for one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 recipients, but he didn’t allow those hurdles to keep him from reaching his dreams and carrying the torch for young Latinos in New York City.

From being the youngest chef to graduate from the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) to cooking at Yankee Stadium and beating Bobby Flay on national television, Chef Kelvin has accumulated a great number of accolades throughout his young culinary career. And the best part?: He’s just getting started.

I kicked it with the “Best Chef in America” to talk inspiration, how he stays grounded, and his best moments as a chef.


Brian Martinez: Tell us what inspired you to become a chef. What was that thing that was like, "Hey, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”?

Kelvin Fernandez: I think the first time that I created something using my hands and I gave it to someone, and I saw their reaction—how much they loved it—and it was simple. It could've been a brownie or a chocolate chip cookie because that's what I was learning how to make in high school. I was fortunate enough to go to a high school where they had a lot of vocational programs.

Also, my girlfriend at the time, she was into cooking and wanted me to spend a little bit more time with her and start sharing common interests, and, of course, as a man, as a Dominican man, as a Latino man, I was like, "Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I'm not going to wear an apron. This is not the lifestyle for me." Granted, my dad is a chef. My dad is an amazing chef. My dad has been a great chef for the past 40 years. Not that he didn't appreciate me following in his footsteps, it was more of the fact that he knew the sacrifices that it took. He knew how hard it was and he didn't want me falling into that lifestyle.

But for me, I fell in love with making people happy and food is one of those very personal, very intimate, and we don't even have to meet each other, but we're sharing a connection. You're having something from my hands to your soul. I fell in love with being able to create and be original and reinvent things because with cooking and as a chef, there is no plagiarism in food. Either you make it better, or you fuck it up.

You're having something from my hands to your soul. I fell in love with being able to create and be original and reinvent things because with cooking and as a chef, there is no plagiarism in food. Either you make it better, or you fuck it up.

BM: There are so many different ways things can be reinvented. It's culinary artistry and it's okay to add your own twist to certain things just like in music and any other form of art.

KF: Yeah. We all have different canvases to paint on. The only thing where you lose respect is when people try to completely duplicate something. Like I said, either you're going to mess it up or you're going to make it better. You're not going to make it the exact same. That's for sure.

At the end of the day, it's all about originality.

Where you gain respect is when you become original. Where you lose respect is when you want to be a copycat, and we see this in every industry. We see this in industries where people see a concept and they're like, "Oh, let's hire someone that can duplicate that. Well, we'll just add a little sunflower emoji and make it different. Now, it's mine." You see it in the tech world, we see it in the music world, you see it in every field, honestly. But there comes the day where I think you earn more respect when you become original and you start following your own path.

BM: You talked about your dad being a chef, I'm sure that was a big inspiration for you. Is there a chef that you admire the most?

KF: I think, in reality, I tried not to get lost in following other chefs. The most important thing for me is being grateful and very blessed to work for a lot of amazing chefs growing up. I basically sacrificed my childhood from the ages of 16 to 21, to work for the Daniel Bouluds, the Jean-Georges, the Marcus Samuelssons, the Alfred Portales: The kings of New York. What I found out was if you want to be a great chef, you surround yourself with great chefs. You are going to pick up all the habits that are in their kitchen. So, when I went from French to American to Italian to a little bit of Asian, you pick up all of the good techniques, and then you find your own and you create it, which is why I do a little bit of Latin.

Latin didn't happen until I started at Blend on the Water because they gave me the opportunity to be myself. Not everyone is always going to understand why I'm cooking escargots, foie gras, sweetbreads, pot-au-feu, and duck confit. These are things that you will only understand if you grew up eating French food. So, given the opportunity where I was like, "I want to be versatile, so I'm going to go learn American from Alfred Portale. I'm going to go learn French from Daniel Boulud. I'm going to go on that Vietnamese French style from Jean-George. I'm going to learn that Italian."

When I became a chef at 22, I didn't know any Italian food and I was grateful for the chef that was there. He was my sous-chef. I inherited a lot from him, and I'm glad I did because he taught me how to make fresh pasta, fresh pizza and mozzarella from scratch. I ended up doing that at one of our events that we worked together on at Team Epiphany for the… It was like…

BM: Google Pixel Murder Mystery?

KF: Yes, the Google Pixel Murder Mystery! That was I'm not going to lie, one of the coolest events I've ever been a part of. To be able to walk in, you get a phone, and your entire persona is transformed—I was able to match my food to the amazing event that was created.

But to finish answering your question, my dad was such a big inspiration for me, even more so because he kept telling me, "Don't do this, don't do this, don't do this. Go find something else you'll love. Go study in school, go have girlfriends, go play sports." I'm like, "I'm doing all that, but I'm also doing this because I have an interest in it." It was to the point where I remember when I graduated from the C-CAP and my dad was, again, still a very hard critic. I would love to try and cook at home and try new things and he's like, "Why are you cooking lamb?"

I remember trying to learn new things that I learned at work and I wanted to go home and cook and my dad's like, "Why are you cooking lamb for the family? We don't eat lamb, let alone know we don't eat lamb medium," yet he was the first person to clear the plate. He was that tough critic, and I think I always joke around with him to this day. My dad, he's an amazing inspiration, he shows a lot of love, but he shows that Dominican hard love. My dad had to be a strong man to teach us to grow up to be strong men and women and be prideful, but it wasn't until I started making more money than him that he was like, "All right my man, we doing something good here. Just don't lose yourself."

From that moment on, I always remember the way that I felt when I opened The New York Daily News on a Sunday in 2008 and I saw my face on the Sunday page. I got goosebumps; I always wanted to have that feeling. So, I said to myself, "I will always remember this, and I will always be inspired by myself, my people around me, and just inspiring others every day." To be able to have a platform where—I'm not going to lie to you, Brian, at least five people minimum hit me up every day on Instagram and tell me how truly an inspiration I am just by sharing what I'm doing and showing people my work ethic because you can't teach work ethic. Either you want it, or you're just going to settle for mediocre.

So, I said to myself, ‘I will always remember this, and I will always be inspired by myself, my people around me, and just inspiring others every day.’

BM: Kudos to your dad for putting in that work and raising that kind of a son. In our culture, I think it's big where we're always reminded to stay grounded. We are always taught that you can have all of this and that's all great, but one day it can all go away, right?

KF: Don't get it twisted, my mom was heavy in this life. My mom was the main reason why I am a gentleman, why I have a heart of gold, why I know how to treat women the way I do because I was always taught to open doors, and to say yes ma'am. Still, to this day I do that and people are like, "Are you in the military?" And I'm like, "Nope, this is just the way I was raised." My mother taught me to be a gentleman. My mother taught me to have manners and if I'm in someone else's house, take my plate and take it to the sink rather than getting up and leaving food on the table. It's just little things that sometimes you just don't see in society anymore.

So, I think my parents were heavy on the man that I am today. I'm not going to lie; we grew up poor. I was raised in the projects. And to me, when you're going through that, you don't feel it. You don't know it because you're just having an amazing time being young and enjoying life and, "Mom, can I get Sega Genesis? Can I get the new Nintendo 64? Can I get a PlayStation?" They always got it for us because we held our end of the bargain, and for us, it was something as simple as just getting good grades in school.

BM: We all share those similar stories within our culture, and I love to see that you came with that upbringing. The sacrifices that our parents and relatives make and how hard they go is the same amount of work and sacrifice you want to put into your own family when you have that at some point.

No matter how perfect we aspire to be there is always something within our professional skills that we are not able to master no matter how hard we try or work on it. Is there an ingredient or a dish that you have not been able to master?

KF: In the beginning, I would say it was quinoa because I did a show on the Food Network called Chopped where you have to open up a basket and you get four ingredients and a specific timeframe to create a dish. The first round was 20 minutes. In the second and third round you have 30 minutes to create a dish using the four ingredients. In the second round, I got quinoa and I couldn't cook it in the 30 minutes, yet one lady that was next to us, she cooked it in 30 minutes. They would never give us an ingredient that couldn't be done, but you got to be creative in the cooking skills. I took about two years after I did that show and figured out how to cook quinoa, and I'd say I got that mastered down now so I'm going to take quinoa off the list!

Otherwise, I'm just learning every day. What I love about this business and this career path that I've chosen is that  you can never know everything. You're always constantly learning. If you get bored with one cuisine, you can start learning and doing something else. That's why I'm so versatile like I said, in French, American, Italian, and Latin. Now, I like to fuse things together and create things that people have never seen before as simple as it might sound. I was the first person to do mofongo croquettes. I wanted to show the world that there was more than just putting rice and beans on every dish and calling that Latin. We can do other things.

But, there's a lot of things that I'm not a master of and I'll only know once I get to a point of trying it out. I learned that I'm not great at reading directions and following recipes from a cookbook. I learned that the hard way by trying things out and I'm like, "Shit, what am I supposed to do with the soy sauce? Damn, that was in the marinade. That was like 10 steps before. How do we add this now?" Baking I know for sure is not my forte, but I can throw down with what we call chef's desserts. I make a pretty mean flan, and tres leches and a great chocolate molten cake, but I know what I do best. I can't bake a cake and frost it, that's for sure.

BM: It's beautiful. To be honest, I think that watching all these people and how creative they can get with food needs to be an experience. There are so many layers to that industry, but I think that from the restaurants specifically, I think that the experience starts at the door. Literally from the second you walk through the door up until you get up and leave, I think every step of the way matters.

KF: The sequence of service, that's what it's called. Anyone that's in the industry knows whether you're a server, whether you're a busboy, or whether you're a hostess, you have to have a sequence of service because every person that you say hi to or you interact with is having and going through that sequence of service. Like you said, from the moment you say hello to you when you're greeted to the moment you say goodbye when the check is dropped.

BM: It all matters.

I've known you for some time now, man, and I think that you've had some amazing achievements and incredible moments that I've been able to witness in person and through social. What would you say is your most memorable moment as a chef?

KF: That's such a tough question. I could break down my life into parts as a chef because there are moments that everything is important. Can’t have one without the other, right? So, I'm going to give you just three quick ones. I'm going to say winning the C-CAP Scholarship in high school that gave me $40,000 to go to the Culinary Institute of America that set the bar. Beating Bobby Flay in 2015, on his show, and getting top 30 chefs under 30 by Forbes. And follow up to that, being the undisputed best chef in America for the past four years. There are still so many more in between that, like opening up my own business was a highlight for myself. Being able to say that I'm never, from this moment on, working for anyone else. I'm working for myself. Someone asked me today, a great mentor of mine, "How did you get the gig that you're doing now? I thought you were working with J-Lo and A-Rod." I'm like, "I don't work for anyone. I work for myself, and my company is hired by these clients."

There are still so many more in between that, like opening up my own business was a highlight for myself. Being able to say that I'm never, from this moment on, working for anyone else. I'm working for myself.

At the end of the day, I need everybody to know I work for myself. That's the most important thing. There's a reason why I don't do full-time with anyone because I want to be able to share my talent with as many people as possible. I know for a fact because of what I do with Kelvin’s Kitchen, I'm never going to be bored, never. They always say find a job that you're never going to get bored and you're set for life, right? Find something that you love, and you'll never work a day in your life. I'm not working. I only work on my days off when I'm answering emails and shit, that's work. When I'm creating experiences and I'm smiling, I get to do two things that I love, entertaining, hosting, and creating experiences. Because when you allow me to come into your home, you're going to get the biggest smile, the best experience, and the most amazing food.

BM: I think every chef has a style, right? Every chef has their own thing that separates them from everybody else. Everyone has these specific things that are done in their kitchen. Are there any pre-cooking rituals in the kitchen that you could tell us about? Is there anything specifics, any rules that you and your team must abide by in the kitchen?

KF: Yeah, I think the most important thing is that, and I joke around with this. You can ask Alex (sous chef) because he's been with me for 10-plus years, you got to walk in with a smile. If you don't walk in with a smile, go outside and start that over. At the end of the day, what's going on through your life does not matter the moment you walk into the kitchen whether it's my kitchen, someone else's kitchen, or we're just having fun for the day cooking some food. We always say a smile is contagious, right? Smile at a stranger and see what they're going to do. Hopefully, they smile right back at you, if not, they're crazy and something is wrong with them. It's one of those things where I'm always positive.

Aside from that, we got to have music. We almost always listen to Drake because Drake could be all of these different things, he can be up, down, mellow, my girlfriend cheated on me, let's go make some money, I'm on top of the world. He has a song for everything. That's what I love about Drake.

BM: He's got range. I don't know if you know, I worked in a kitchen in Tampa, Florida.

KF: Yeah, you told me that way back.

BM: At Buffalo Wild Wings and I enjoyed it and had a wonderful time. I learned a shit ton. I feel like working in a kitchen you learn and apply a lot of life lessons similar to what you learn when you're in a sports team, right? You go in sports and you learn camaraderie and how to work with a team and all that stuff. One of the things that I did the most while I was there was be an expediter. That's the quarterback of the kitchen, right? You aren't cooking a damn thing, but you are absolutely running the whole show.

KF: One of my favorite jobs. You are very essential. Very vital to the success of everyone that you're behind.

BM: Let's go back to you, though. You mentioned you've cooked for A-Rod and J. Lo, you've cooked at Yankee Stadium, you beat Bobby Flay on national TV on his own show. Is there anything you haven't accomplished as a chef that you would like to?

KF: Yeah, absolutely. Something that I'm trying to tackle by the end of the year, create a cookbook. I really want to do that for the people and for myself. To be able to tell my story for those who haven't heard it already because the story changes, the goals change every year. As life progresses, I want different things. And just as you say, you work hard, and everything will start coming from it. I'm exactly where I need to be at 35-years-old. There's a reason why I sacrificed from ages 16 to 25. Of course, I wanted to go play baseball with my friends and go have some fun on Saturdays and Sundays. But no, I was in restaurant kitchens at the age of 16, 17, 18 busting it down, working the line, and getting shrimp thrown at me because I'm not cooking it right, but that was the learning process.

BM: So, let me ask you this, you're a Dominican chef from New York City. We're very unique people, both Dominican and being a New Yorker, has any of those things inspired your culinary journey, and if so, how?

KF: I think everyone should be proud of where they come from. No matter where you are in the world, you have a group of individuals that are ready to be your number one fans, to be able to push you to the top as long as you're doing something positive. I always joke around about the time where I worked at La Marina for the first time. I had a conversation with Fernando (former owner) just recently and I asked him face to face, "Did you pay a guy to wait for me in front of the Dyckman train station when I came out to go work for you? He was right at the exit and said 'Chef Kelvin, welcome to uptown. We've been waiting for you.'" That changed my life.

I'm like, "Holy shit. Who are you? How do you know me?" That was a game-changer right away. And I never had a good conversation with him because I always said, "I know he paid for this," and he's like, "No, I don't know anything about that." I was like, "Yeah you do, and you were smart about it." But he really says he doesn't know anything about it. But, just something as small as that set the tone, and automatically here I have a group, a community now that's behind me. Before it was just people everywhere. Now, I'm working in an area where it's predominantly Dominican, Latino, Puerto Rican, whatever it is. Everyone is just so happy to embrace me, to have an experience, to have my food closer to where they are and don't have to go downtown or travel to Queens.

Now, I'm working in an area where it's predominantly Dominican, Latino, Puerto Rican, whatever it is. Everyone is just so happy to embrace me, to have an experience, to have my food closer to where they are and don't have to go downtown or travel to Queens.

BM: You have some pretty amazing dishes. I've had a lot of your food. Is there a personal favorite you like to make, or is there a favorite that you like to eat?

KF: I'm going to be honest; I think one of the dishes that I always make that makes me happy is Chicken Cordon Bleu. It was one of the first things I learned how to make and there's a reason why it's on my menu everywhere I go. It was the first thing that I ever cooked on a date if I wanted to impress a girl. Not recently, I'm just talking about like my first ever, 18-years-old and I wanted to cook for the girl that I was dating at the time, I made Chicken Cordon Bleu. I remember how impressed people were with something that was a little bit technical, but really simple and is just served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and a nice chicken sauce.

To me, that's like a hug when you eat it. And just, for me, it would be Pollo Guisado (Stew Chicken). It’s something that I would always ask my mom to make. Just things that are nostalgic for me. I remember when I was living in France for three months and the first thing I wanted was my mom's cooking. I was like, "Make me that Pollo Guisado that I love." That's all I asked because I want my mom's cooking. I think everybody's favorite chef in their world is their mom because that's what you grew up for years eating.

BM: You have that featured on Kelvin's Kitchen on your YouTube channel.

KF: It is! I wanted to make sure people got to taste the things that I enjoy. That's why I always say at the beginning of every dish, "It's time to make one of my favorite dishes," because I have so many. I don't think I can ever get rid of that.

BM: I'm going to keep it all the way 100, I have that video tab saved because I'm going to make that for a special somebody. We'll have to wait and see who that is.

KF: I love that energy, Brian. I love that energy.

BM: That leads to my next question, do you see yourself owning a restaurant someday?

KF: Absolutely. I just have to see what this world is turning into because for the restaurant and hospitality space everything has been rough, and I feel it due to Covid. I remember March 23rd I was supposed to do one of my events, my normal pop-up events. It was Midnight Brunch where we’re doing breakfast for dinner. It was a sold-out event, 100 people, and the first person that sent me the message and the email was like, "Hey Kelvin, what are your COVID restrictions, and how are you doing the social distancing at your event?" I looked at my partner and I said, "Cancel the event, refund everybody's money. I will take the L on all the fees that we already paid the company that we did for the ticket and services." I'm like, "That's it, game-changer." From then on, I haven't done any events but found creative ways to still keep myself safe, keep my staff safe, and giving people the opportunity to still have my food.

Mother's Day, Father's Day, we ended up selling arepas out of my apartment complex. We turned my kitchen at home into Kelvin's Kitchen and we sold 60 trays of arepas. Each tray was 24 pieces, so you do the math. It was a lot of fucking arepas. When I saw that I was like, "People love me and they're still going to support me no matter what I do," so absolutely I would love an Arepas by Chef Kelvin storefront someday.

Every time I walk into an event, everyone talks about an arepa like I have them in my pocket and I can just pull it out and say, "Here, try one."  I definitely want to have an Arepas by Chef Kelvin or have it under the umbrella of Kelvin's Kitchen.

BM: You always find time to give back. That's a big thing and I think that says a lot about who you are, it says a lot about your parents and how they raised you. Can you talk a little bit about some of the great charity organizations that you've been a part of? What leads you into wanting to be a part of that and what are those experiences like?

KF: I think giving back comes in different forms. I like to give back by talking to the next generation of young chefs who want to be in the business. I try to give them things and the advice that I never received coming up. I did a column with the Institute of Culinary Education. They're one of my partners and they allowed me to be a chef at their amazing culinary school, and we do a blog every month where I talk about my experience. There's one that I titled “Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Chef” because there are things that a lot of people did not tell you about. The sacrifice that you would make. You have to think about when you're enjoying dinner in a restaurant and it's Thanksgiving, think about everybody that's behind the scenes that are making that happen and how they're away from their families.

Other ways that I give back, I partnered up with the New York Common Pantry that gives away food here in the city. You don’t have to be homeless, if you just want food on your table, don't be embarrassed. They're one of the few food pantries that actually gives you fresh produce vs. just dry goods. They do avocados, romaine lettuce, onions, mangoes, apples, corn, eggplant, fish, and other protein. My head was full of ideas, so I am creating 5 different recipes totaling in 500 meals and be able to give the Chef Kelvin experience to everyone that comes by that pantry that day. It's just finding ways to partner up with some great charities. I would love to donate my time on a regular basis, but it's tough sometimes.

BM: That's awesome. I'd love to somehow be involved in that, man. If you need any hands for that, let me know. I'm definitely down to contribute in any way that I can.

KF: Absolutely. Absolutely. I know Team Epiphany always likes to find ways to help, love that about you guys.

BM: You talked about beating Bobby Flay as one of your most memorable moments. That was what? 2015? What was that experience like?

KF: As a child growing up and looking up to Bobby, it was one of those experiences of, how many people get the opportunity to go one on one with the great one? That's what I call him, the great one. He's now one of only two chefs to have a star on the Walk of Fame. He has over 50 restaurants, including all his Bobby Burger Palaces, he's had over 200 shows on the Food Network. He is Mr. Food Network. Growing up looking up to him and watching all of his shows, reading his books and going to his restaurants to eat, to have the opportunity to cook side by side with him and compete and win, I will remember that for the rest of my life. I've earned his respect. We run into each other often and he's full of hugs and smiles.

I was just recently on the show again because one of my peers, Jose de Jesus was on the show with Beat Bobby Flay. I was able to be in the audience cheering him on and talking some shit to Bobby and being like, "Bobby, remember when I beat you?”

BM: What's next for Chef Kelvin?

KF: Like I said before, goals are constantly changing but what I do want to do is that cookbook I was telling you about, that's on the way. We're going to start doing it at the top of next year. I blocked out the entire first week of November just to focus on the book. I'm also going to do a vlog for that whole entire time to show people what it took to get the book done. I'm partnering up with my girlfriend. She started a publishing company so she's going to publish my first book, so it's going to be an amazing partnership.

Girlfriend walks in the room.

GF: You forgot to start the washer.

KF: What? No, I did start everything? The bottom or the top?

GF: The bottom.

KF: The washer? So, it didn't wash? It was only drying? Son of a bitch. Mental note: Do not buy a washer and dryer together, it has to be two separate things. Sorry, I'm trying to multitask. Here I am washing my own fucking clothes. People tell me, "Why do I do that?" Well, who's going to do it?

BM: You wash your own clothes? Bruh. If you don’t drop that shit off!!

KF: Every time that someone in my building in my apartment complex has seen me in the wash area, they'll, "What are you doing? You don't send that out?" I'm like, "No, I like to just spend two hours of my day washing clothes." I wish I had a place I can just send it to.

They're here laughing at me because I didn't start the washer. At least my chef's coat is dry. I need that for tonight.

BM: We got the book coming up…

KF: Yes, there we go! I'm in a space in my life where I'm heavy on my partnership with my lady. Not only are we going to be life partners, but we're also going to be business partners and I think it's important that we share each other's passion and drive, and that's the only reason it works. She's just as busy as I am. For example, right now I was away for two weeks. I'm in LA now. She's fine with working in LA so she's shooting content, recording music, doing a music video all at the same time while I'm here working and yet we still make time to at least spend some time with each other and just coming home to each other every night, I had to bring her out here with me so I don’t miss any time. I hate to miss moments, but she understands.

But aside from that, we talk about we want to have Arepas by Chef Kelvin. Coquito season is next. That's heavy for me. Just looking for the right way to completely expand the brand. And you know the first time I made coquito, it started in just a regular Hennessy bottle, then the next year we put a logo on that Hennessy bottle and now we have our own bottles with our own logo. And starting this year, you're not going to be able to DM or email me, you'll just order it online.

BM: Nice. That's awesome.

Leveling up as we go.︎