Chef Juan Barcenas is currently the Head Chef at Sigma Chi at The University of Arkansas. In a true “American Dream” story, Chef Juan’s career began as a dishwasher in Los Angeles and advanced to a restaurant owner. He has been with College Chefs for since August of 2015, working in multiple chapters at The University of Arkansas.
Immigrating from El Salvador to America at age 15, Chef Juan did not have an easy beginning in America. He had long commutes from Fresno to LA to his job as a dishwasher and also spent some time in a job picking grapes with his uncle. He didn’t necessarily enjoy those jobs, but knew he wanted to learn how to cook. He told his friends in Los Angeles about this desire and one late night received a call with a restaurant job offer. An hour later, he was on a bus to LA and started work at 7am the next day!
Barcenas remained in LA for 9 years while starting a family and learning to cook from Italian Chefs. During his time in LA, Chef Juan worked as a sous chef and executive chef at two Italian fine dining restaurants, while graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in between jobs in 1995.
Towards the end of his time in LA, Chef Juan was looking to find a safer place to raise his family. He eventually found a home in Fayetteville, Arkansas when friend, Chef Andrea Freeze, invited him the be the executive chef for his new restaurant in the town. The restaurant, Bordino’s, was a traditional Italian restaurant. It became a huge success in the area and it inspired Chef Juan to open his own restaurant. After 8 years at Bordino’s, he ventured off on his own.
Without the capital to build the restaurant of his dreams initially, Chef Juan started with a simple gourmet pizza and sandwich shop called, Picasso’s Pizza. Over the course of two years, he continually added to the menu including pastas, salads, meat dishes, and eventually a wine list. He eventually improved the building structure and appeal, while also adding to his staff which included upscale servers and hostesses.
Chef Juan said he is a fan of Spanish food, but absolutely loves cooking Italian food and commented, “There is nothing like having a good wine matched with good (Italian) food on the table.”
Similar to today with College Chefs, Chef Juan always made sure he had the finest, freshest, quality ingredients to work with in his kitchens. He always makes sure to maintain quality to the highest levels in his Chapters and is well love by all the students he feeds daily!
Check out some of Chef Juan's awesome food below!!