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On the culinary fast track

Food: Canyon Country grad Norbert Moniz is a restaurant butcher — and a vegetarian

Posted: September 4, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: September 4, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Moniz shows off his adopted city of Chicago, which he said is one of the country’s great food destinations.

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How did a vegetarian from Canyon Country end up as the butcher for one of the nation’s hottest restaurants?
If you’re Norbert Moniz, who graduated from Canyon High School in 2007, you follow your heart and your taste buds wherever they may take you.

For Moniz, that’s meant the beaches of Santa Barbara, the mountains of Mammoth, and finally, the city streets of Chicago, where he now works at the highly acclaimed Girl & The Goat, owned and operated by Stephanie Izard. Izard is the fourth-season winner of Bravo television’s Emmy Award-winning reality competition program “Top Chef.”

“I love the intensity you get in the kitchen, with everyone breathing down your neck, trying to be as fast as you can. Everyone is so different, you just get the most insane people working by your side,” Moniz said with a laugh. “It’s just a blast.”

His start in the culinary world was humble. Moniz’s first job was as a dishwasher and busboy at Farrell’s in Saugus, where he eventually became a short order cook.

Still, Moniz was inspired enough to enroll at San Francisco’s Le Cordon Bleu, where he graduated in 2008.

After a brief stint in Ventura, Moniz moved to Mammoth, where he worked at the Whitebark restaurant.

“I snowboard a lot, so I thought it would be a cool place to go,” he said. “It was a great experience. It’s fun to live in the snow.”

It was also hard work at the Whitebark, located within the Westin Monache Resort. Moniz began as a grill, or basic line cook.

“I learned how to do some cuts of meat, meat fabrication, temperatures and speed in the kitchen,” he said.

In 2009, Moniz headed to sunnier climes, landing at Spiritland Bistro, a vegetarian restaurant in Santa Barbara, where he spent six months as the sous chef, and six months as the head chef.

“That was pretty cool, at age 20. The owner let me have my own kitchen and bring in my own staff. It was fun trying to figure out how to make things work. There was a lot of trial and error,” Moniz said.

Spiritland Bistro had a basic menu, to which Moniz added weekly specials, new lunch dishes and a monthly chef’s dinner.

“We also started a once a month raw menu, which they’re still doing. It’s four courses, all raw food,” he said.
By 2010, Moniz was ready for a change.

“I felt like I’d hit a dead-end. It was between Portland and Chicago, so I flipped a quarter and ended up in Chicago, where my cousin lives,” he said. “It’s such a great food city.”

Moniz found work quickly at the Boka Restaurant Group, which manages five of Chicago’s most popular dining destinations, including Girl & The Goat.

When he couldn’t get home for Thanksgiving, Moniz offered to help Izard at her restaurant.

“I wanted to keep my mind off family,” he said. “Afterwards, I was working at one restaurant full-time and Stephanie’s part-time. For eight months, it was 16 hour days, seven days a week, until I transferred over to Girl & The Goat full-time.”
With its reputation for nose-to-tail dining, Girl & The Goat hired Moniz on as a butcher. Despite not eating meat himself, Moniz had no qualms about his new position.

“I actually love it. I feel I have a real appreciation for the meat. I give them love and respect and use everything, right down to roasting the bones,” he said. “Stephanie’s a great advocate of that. If an animal’s going to be killed for something, every piece should be used.”

According to Moniz, Girl & The Goat receives eight whole goats and 50 pigs heads in its weekly meat order to process.
“For some odd reason, I’m really fast at it. We have a race to see who can fabricate a pig’s head the fastest, and I have the record. I did it in under two minutes, and the next closest was 2 minutes and 30 seconds,” he said.

Meat, produce and most ingredients at Girl & The Goat are primarily sourced from local farms and farmer’s markets.
Moniz noted the latter pales in comparison to his home state.

“They try to do it pretty well, and there are some pretty good (suppliers), but when you live in Santa Barbara, they have such incredible produce every day. I tell people here, ‘You’ve never been to a California farmers market,’” he said.
While he’s happy at Girl & The Goat, Moniz is already planning his next culinary career move.

“I give myself about another year, then I’m looking at going to New York and working out there,” he said. “I would love to eventually own my own place, something low-key and not too big. I don’t want to be a huge famous chef, I just want a place where people love to go, hang out and eat great food.”

The experience Moniz is garnering while working for Izard is helping him toward that path, he said.

“Even if Stephanie didn’t have the Top Chef win, her food still speaks for itself. It’s just a bonus for her to have the TV thing behind her,” Moniz said. “One day, I would love to have the knowledge and skill level Stephanie does.”

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