When Chef Cristobal Lopez first came to America he had no idea that he wanted to be a chef. He came for the American Dream, looking for any opportunity. As it happens, Lady Luck must have been watching Cristobal closely as it was during his first job working as a dishwasher that fortune paid a visit.
“It’s kind of crazy. I came from Mexico looking for opportunity, you know, the American Dream. So I started working as a dishwasher. That was my first job when I came to the United States. A friend of mine asked, ‘Hey, are you looking for another job, Portobello is looking for bread cooks? ‘And I said ‘okay, let me go ahead and try.’” It’s not every day you can stretch the truth in an interview and get away with it but perhaps luck had intervened once again as Chef Cristobal had fortunately received some training in cooking and using a knife from a chef while working at Christini’s, although in an unprofessional capacity. This, and a sous chef providing a good reference were enough to get Cristobal through the door with a chance.
“So I came to Portobello and the executive chef and the sous chef gave me an interview. The sous chef told the executive chef ‘Give him a chance, I know the guy is good.’ I kind of lied to them because I told them I knew how to use a knife, and I knew how to cook because one of the Chef’s at Christini’s showed me how to do it.”
“After that I started my career as a Chef. Cooking, doing prep cooks, then sous chef, senior sous chef, executive sous chef, and now executive chef at this time. Now 19 years at Portobello’s that I love.” Chef Cristobal loves his customers and wants them to walk out the door having the best dining experience possible after sampling one of the many dishes available at his little trattoria in Disney Springs. He’s passionate about the menu and making everything fresh and from scratch. You won’t find any premade dishes in Cristobal’s kitchen.
“We have a great place, a little trattoria in Disney Springs, with a great menu. All the sauces and everything start from scratch. Everything is homemade. We have homemade pasta, ravioli homemade in the house. We have a lot of options on our menu. Desserts are home made too. Beeramisu, our version of tiramisu, made in house, created in house, panna cotta as well made in house, and with local ingredients.” Chef Cristobal likes to experiment away from the grill. His restaurant has a pizza oven but he uses it for more than pizza as he believes the pizza oven imparts a unique flavor to the food that traditional stove or grill cooking doesn’t.
“Our wood pizza oven, that’s unique. It makes a difference for the pizzas and all of the other things we cook in that pizza oven. I think for a lot of restaurants to have that kind of oven, it’s really unique because the flavors change a lot than to cook it on the grill, or to cook it on the stove. It makes a lot of difference.”
His passion for cooking also extends to his home life as he’s a devoted family man. He admits that although the hours are long and the enthusiasm for cooking is somewhat diminished when he gets home, his love for his kids and their love for his food inspire him back into the kitchen even during his downtime.
“Most of the time I don’t have a favorite food. It’s more what your kids like to eat and that’s when you create something, it could be a homemade pasta, or a grilled cheese sandwich. It can be something that your kids love because at the end you go home and that’s who is waiting for you, your kids. “