Chef Isaac Rios’ recipe for The Lean Bowl is below.

When I joined Ocotillo Village Health Club & Spa, I had no idea that The Lakeview Café would offer much beyond smoothies and snacks and have an exceptional chef like Isaac Rios. I was so impressed with the menu he has created with his team incorporating healthy and flavorful ingredients along with outstanding presentations; I knew I wanted to interview him. In addition to the breakfast, lunch, and dinner selections, The Lakeview Café offers catering services and does special events that sell-out and are member favorites.

Isaac was fun to interview and he shared the recipe for The Lean Bowl, a favorite item on the menu. Isaac said, “It is now the famous Lean Bowl! It is fantastic yet so simple. I hope you enjoy.

His personality is a winning one with his staff and when you listen to his radio interview, you can hear why with his enthusiasm.

Maralyn: When did you start showing an interest in cooking and how did you get started?

Chef Isaac: My first job was at a fast food restaurant at the age of 15 however when I was 18, I worked at my first fine dining restaurant, The Double Eagle, in Las Cruces, NM. Ironically enough I was fired for being too slow. I had been hired as a busser, but I’d always fall behind because I was always too busy seeing what the kitchen was up to. It was the first time I had ever seen a chef in real life, much less meet one, and that’s when I realized I wanted to be a chef.

Maralyn: What was your family’s reaction to your career choice?

Chef Isaac: My mom was happy I was working period. So, at the time she didn’t care what I did, as long as I stayed out of trouble

Maralyn: Did you do an apprenticeship or go to a culinary school? If so, could you tell us about it

Chef Isaac: I attended Scottsdale Culinary Institute, Le Cordon Bleu. At the time, I was working as a line cook and I wanted to go to culinary school but the closest schools were in Albuquerque, NM or Scottsdale, AZ and I didn’t know anyone in either city. To top it off, my mom didn’t really want me to move away either. See my dad had passed away and my sister had married, so it was just the two of us. So, I tried to convince her to move with me but she didn’t want to leave the house where I grew up because she had too many memories there. Ultimately, my sister convinced my mom to let me move, telling her that this would be a great opportunity for me, and that my dad would have wanted me to do this.

Maralyn: Which is your favorite station in the kitchen, the hotline, pastry, etc.?

Chef Isaac: In one restaurant I worked at, if you worked sauté you worked the grill too, and though at first I hated it because it was so busy, I eventually fell in love with it. It was always busy, the tickets kept pouring out of the printer and I got really good at it. Sometimes I’d have to slow down because I’d get my tickets done faster than some of the other stations and the food would stagger out instead of coming out around the same time. I don’t have to work the kitchen much these days but now and then if I have to jump on the line I’ll take the hot line before anything else. 

Maralyn: What is your favorite comfort food and is there a particular reason?

Chef Isaac: Mexican food. I know that might be cliché because I am Mexican, but I love it. My mom used to make a lot of one-pot dishes, stews if you will, likes “chile rojo con carne” which translates to meat in red chili. But it was this pork dish like nothing you’ve ever had. It was pork, usually country bone in ribs, browned then braised in its juices and this rich red sauce made from red dried chili pods from New Mexico and at the end you add in tender cactus sliced up. I used to literally eat 3 to 4 bowls of this stuff over Spanish rice and refried beans! I swear I want this to be my last meal on earth! 

Maralyn: Do you have a favorite dessert?

Chef Isaac: So I don’t have much of a sweet tooth…BUT…I love chocolate. I love chocolate cake more than anything! No ice cream, no drizzled sauces, just plain old moist almost gooey chocolate cake with a nice light frosting and a glass of milk. I’m a weirdo, I know.

Maralyn: What is your favorite type of food to prepare?

Chef Isaac: Lately I’ve really been into Asian food, specifically working with pork belly and dishes that incorporate it like ramen. I’ve been reading a lot about different types of broth like tonkatsu broth and miso. I play around with products here at work and then I like combining those flavors with more southwest flavors that I’m more comfortable with. For example, I’ll take roasted pork belly that’s been brushed with hoisin sauce and I’ll slice it thin or dice it and put it in a corn tortilla and top it with cilantro, scallions and a red tomatillo sauce. It goes surprisingly well together. Ultimately you realize how much a lot of these cultures have in common through food.

Isaac Before and After 100 pound weight loss

Maralyn: How do you personally view presentation?

Chef Isaac: It is at least as important as how good the food is! If you wouldn’t want to look at it, you definitely wouldn’t want to put it in your mouth!

Maralyn: What is your favorite cooking utensil?

Chef Isaac: Right now it’s my sous vide. Because I work at a health club we run into a lot of people that want things cooked with as little oil as possible or none in most cases on their proteins specifically. It’s hard to marinate chicken for example without a fat though and still try to have it come out juicy and flavorful. That’s where the sous vide came in so handy. We could vacuum seal the bags with lemon, spices and seasoning and not have to add in any oil so the meat still absorbs all the flavor. After cooking all the way through we can throw it on the grill to mark it and you get a beautiful chicken breast every time.

Maralyn: If you could provide one or two tips for prospective chefs, what would it be?  

Chef Isaac: Show up to work and on time. It’s that simple. You may know absolutely nothing but you can learn or you alternatively you may know everything but if you don’t show up or consistently show up late, what good are you to any kitchen? Even the best chef is at the mercy of his staff and if he can’t rely on you, if your teammates can’t rely on you, everyone fails because of that one person’s disrespect and lack of commitment. Everything else will come, the promotions, the titles and even the money but you have to show up first. It’s that basic.

Maralyn: Many of our readers are not familiar with chefs who work in wonderful facilities like The Village. Can you explain how being a corporate chef in this type of setting is different than a regular restaurant?

Chef Isaac: Well the biggest challenge is trying to find the right medium between healthy and indulgent. People want their burgers and fries even in a health club however there are a lot of people that want clean eating too. I had to balance the two even though I wanted to get rid of the fryer all together. Also the kitchens in all of our clubs are small, the smallest kitchens I’ve ever worked in and we still pump out a lot of food. The challenge is finding storage and having more than one person working the kitchen especially during busy times. However I’m proud to say that we’ve done caterings for as many as 800 people out of my tiny kitchen!

Maralyn: Do you cook at home a lot?

Chef Isaac: I’m the only one that cooks! My wife hates the kitchen, which is why I think she married a chef in the first place. She will occasionally throw something together but because I do it so quickly, I’d rather just do it myself plus I watch what we eat and I have pretty good idea what we’re going to eat for the week, so I do the grocery shopping as well. She does all the stuff I don’t like and I do the stuff she hates, it works out.


Maralyn: What are the highlights of your career, your “ah ha” or “wow” moments?

Chef Isaac: In 2012 I lost 100lbs and I’ve kept it off ever since. At the time I was in a bad place in every sense and I was frustrated. My daughter had two serious surgeries, my job was laying people off, my marriage was in a bad place, we were in debt like everyone else in the country at the time and I was hypertensive with a cholesterol level way over the healthy level at the age of 27. It was either I take control of something or lose control all together. So I decided to lose the weight. You’d be surprised how much that changed my life. I became a much more positive person and because my attitude changed and I was more confident, everything just fell into place from my career to my family. It was like I reinvented myself. You’d never recognize me, if you knew me then and ran into me now. In fact it still happens sometimes when I run into someone from five years ago. They won’t recognize me at first and then all of a sudden they’re flabbergasted! I realized that you have to take control of your life, you can’t let it run you. It’s all about outlook and perspective. Since then I’ve been on TV multiple times, had a feature done on me in a local publication, contributed to a handful of publications with tips and now getting interviewed by you. Everything that has happened to me since was because of that one change.

Maralyn: When you go out, where do you go to eat?

Chef Isaac: I love mom and pop shops, in fact I seek them out. I’d rather just drive around and find it myself then look at a Yelp review or go to the chains. There’s this ramen shop in Tempe “Tampopo” that is the most amazing thing I have ever had. They make their own noodles by hand, the broth is amazing and the flavors are so unique. I imagine it’s what ramen tastes like in Japan. I don’t think you can get any more authentic than that.

Maralyn: Do you focus on using local products? If so, to what degree?

Chef Isaac: If I can. However since I am horrible in the pastry department if I need sweets made up I only hire local bakers and chefs to do the job, so in that way I contribute to the local economy and businesses.

Maralyn: How do you work with local growers, if you do?

Chef Isaac: My produce company has a couple of local farms at their disposal. So if something is in season, they’ll offer that. Usually by way of a phone call. If it’s reasonable I’ll try and build a special around that.

Maralyn: Anything else you would like to share about being a chef?

Chef Isaac: It’s one of the most rewarding experiences of my life thus far. The people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made, even the people I have worked for have all taught me so much.

Isaac was a pleasure to interview. I certainly enjoyed getting to know him. He has a bright future ahead and those of us at Luxe Beat will keep watching his career, as we expect his name to be one to be recognized in the future.

Ocotillo Lakeview Cafe