Welcome back to our weekly feature highlighting brothers who throw down in the kitchen. Meet Alexis, who uses music in a special way when he cooks—and has the perfect dish that always wins the ladies, Mac-a-Honey & Cheese.
Missed one? Catch up on all the interviews and recipes of our featured chefs in our Men Who Cook Roundup »
Name: Alexis Aquino
Occupation: Operations Manager for a Nonprofit
City: New York City
ESSENCE.COM: How did you get your start in the kitchen?
ALEXIS AQUINO: Growing up, my father cooked for us almost every day and I would always watch him in the kitchen with the admiration a son has for his dad. I was too young to help out, but my father could see how much I wanted to be involved so he gave me the task of being the DJ, changing the radio station whenever commercials came on as he danced to the music while he cooked. He would even stop cooking when a commercial break began and resume when I found a station with music playing to make me feel like I was contributing to the meal. Eventually I became old enough to cook with him side by side and took every opportunity to learn from him as well as my mother and grandmother.
ESSENCE.COM: Alright Mr. DJ. And what's your best cooking tip?
AQUINO: I like to use something I call a 'Musingredient' in almost every meal. At a young age, I discovered that if I make music and dance part of my cooking preparation, the mood of the song will be represented in the food. Since then I always choose a song as a key ingredient for most meals and use dance as a means of 'stirring' it into the dish. As a kid I would play songs like “Don't Worry Be Happy” while cooking breakfast for my mother whenever I felt she needed cheering up. Later on, I used a lot of Marvin Gaye and Luther for a little romance with the ladies (laughs). Today it’s a means of empowerment for me, as I may play some Soca while making fried kingfish to fight the affects of the recession or Sam Cooke's “Change is Gonna Come” while hooking up a quick salad to keep me focused on my aspirations.
ESSENCE.COM: And what do you love most about cooking?
AQUINO: I have a ton of fun cooking. When I'm cooking for people the kitchen becomes a performance space where I get to express a passion for the arts. In the kitchen I get to mix vibrant colors to create edible works of art, and use my 'musingredient' as an excuse to do a little two step, or bust out some salsa, or maybe even lean wit it rock wit it, all while I'm throwing it down at the stove. If I'm cooking with people, then the kitchen becomes a club where everyone is partying. I will often make a tasty drink for us to enjoy and encourage everyone to do a dance move together during certain parts of the preparation to enhance the flavor. When I haven't cooked for a while I really miss it!
ESSENCE.COM: So have you ever had a disaster in the kitchen you learned from?
AQUINO: I definitely almost burnt a friend's house down while cooking for him and his lady. I was broiling this fat, juicy steak, but apparently the steak was too juicy because as the fat melted it began to accumulate in the pan and turned into a pool that eventually caught fire. Fortunately, I discovered the fire fairly quickly and was able to get it out of the oven before any damage was done and the steak turned out pretty good. It’s important to always stay close to your food while cooking
ESSENCE.COM: Now tell us about your signature dish.
AQUINO: It’s Garlic Mozzarella Mac-a-Honey & Cheese. And no, I don't actually use honey in this dish. Instead, the Mac-a-Honey part of the title came after years of me teaching friends how to make this specialty for first-date situations, and it eventually evolved into a dish I would recommend anytime one of my boys was cooking for his lady.
Find out how you can make Alexis' Signature dish, Garlic Mozzarella Mac-a-Honey & Cheese »