Head chef wants to bring joy with his meals
For Jesus Rangel, a typical work day starts with a smile as he walks through The Willows of Marshalltown and says hi to the residents and other employees. Rangel has been working as an executive chef at The Willows since its opening in late 2018, a position with a level of recognition that he never expected to achieve. From the first glance, it becomes obvious that Rangel has both a love for what he does as well as a passion for sharing his food with those around him.
After seeing his grandmother cook during his childhood, Rangel developed a love and passion for cooking that has only continued to grow throughout the years.
By 14, Rangel was working in a casino as a buss boy, where he eventually made his way to cook. After moving on from the casino, he worked at Hy-Vee for one year as head chef. It was there that Rangel started to realize his own growth in the kitchen and found a pride and passion in his work that has only pushed him to continue doing what he loves.
Cooking is about much more than the food for Rangel. He thinks of his meals as an opportunity to bring joy to his customers and guests in the form of a dish.
“I like to place a smile on everybody,” Rangel said. “It allows me to interact with them, and the stories that they have. It’s just amazing.”
To get ready for Thanksgiving, Rangel and his crew at The Willows are preparing their Thanksgiving dinner, a meal which includes Thanksgiving classics like turkey and green bean casserole, as well as more unconventional dishes, such as butterfly shrimp and cheesecake.
At home, Rangel’s cooking consists of Mexican-American cuisines, bringing into his home “the best of both worlds,” he said.
When cooking for family events or holidays, the preparation becomes an entire family ordeal.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Rangel said.
While one person may tackle the stuffed-chicken Thanksgiving dinner, another may start on the bunuelos, a type of Mexican fritter resembling a sweet tortilla.
“The flavors, the aroma that fills the kitchen while you’re preparing these meals. You can taste it in the air,” he said.
Though the household meals are not always a massive undertaking, Rangel and his family always prepare big meals for holidays, birthdays and weddings.
“If we do, we make sure we go with a bang all the time,” Rangel said. “We’re always looking to make sure everybody’s fulfilled. When we ask you for seconds, we like to hear ‘I’m full.'”
Thoughts of owning his own restaurant has led him to daydream up floor plans and a restaurant theme. In the meantime, Rangel said that The Willows is his restaurant for now.
“The good thing about here is that it’s a different experience each day. It’s never the same. For being a restaurant, it’s never the same,” Rangel said. “This is my new home and I’ll definitely be here for a while and I’ll continue to create.”
Looking back on the path he took to get to where he is today, Rangel feels thankful for the people and places that helped him grow and develop.
“I’m very very grateful that they gave me an opportunity to continue my growth into who I’ve become today,” Rangel said. “With that growth, it allows me to continue sharing good, enjoyable palate taste. It’s really remarkable.”
Lobster and Artichoke Dip
1 pound lobster meat, chopped
10-12 canned artichoke hearths, chopped
3/4 cup green peppers, finely diced
3/4 cup red peppers, finely diced
1 tbs fresh garlic, finely diced
8 ounces cream cheese, whipped
1 cup mayonnaise
3 cups parmesan, grated
1 dash cayenne pepper
1 dash dry mustard
1 dash crushed red peppers
Mix all ingredients in a food processor, minus the lobster and artichoke hearts.
Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl, then add the artichoke hearts and lobster meat.
Bake in a pan or dish for 15 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.
Serve with tortilla chips and fresh salsa.