The man sitting next to me is holding a coffee cup in one hand and is wildly pointing with the other. “There he is!” he whispers loudly to his wife, who looks around wildly and says, “Where? Where?” The “he” in question is chef Masaharu Morimoto, who has nonchalantly entered the amphitheatre at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa, California, to perform a cooking demonstration.

Jefferson Alvarez was 16 years old, and had already known for most of a decade that he wanted to be a professional cook, when he left his native Venezuela, with its pampas-fed beef, chickens scratching busily in pens, and vegetable gardens everywhere—all making for great, healthy eating.