Faces of NGI: Q&A with Christian Zubidi, Operations Manager | Natural Gourmet Institute

Faces of NGI: Q&A with Christian Zubidi, Operations Manager

Posted May 11, 2018

The NGI community is made up of faculty, staff, and students from diverse backgrounds. In this series, we’re featuring a staff member or chef instructor to give you a taste of who we are and how we each contribute to creating a quality, health-supportive culinary education.

Christian Zubidi has been a part of the NGI family for more than eight years. His passion for food was instilled in him as he watched his mother cook while growing up. As soon as he started working at NGI, he knew it was a special place and he continuously makes sure everyone knows that. Read on to learn more about Christian’s story and his hard work to make the operations at NGI run efficiently.

How did you become interested in food?

Growing up, I used to watch my mom cook every day. It was either watch her cook or watch the novella that was on the television. She would make traditional Puerto Rican meals like “Arroz con Gandules” (yellow rice with pigeon peas), Pernil (pork shoulder), Ensalada de Bacaloa (salted cod salad), sweet chicken stew, and pink potato salad. One day when I was eight or nine years old, she asked me to make the rice for a dish she was making. From that day forward, making the rice was my responsibility. Many other members of my family, including my grandmother and aunts, were great home cooks and I always enjoyed watching them create delicious dishes.

What led you to Natural Gourmet Institute?

I was working for a non-profit in Corona (a neighborhood in Queens) for years, and I was desperate to find a new job. A friend told me about an open Dishwasher position at NGI and I quickly took the opportunity. It was quick transition for me, but I am so happy I did it.

You’ve been at NGI since 2010. How has your time here shaped your relationship with food?

Since I started working at NGI I have been much more conscious about the ingredients that I put on my plate. By listening to lectures and observing classes in the kitchen while working, I have gained nutritional knowledge and learned the best ways to take good care of produce.

What was your turning point in adopting a healthier diet?

I came into NGI with McDonalds one day when I had first started working at NGI and was approached by Annemarie Colbin, PhD, the founder of NGI. She took me into her office and broke down where the ingredients from my meal came from, how they were processed, and the harm that they would do to my body. After that, I started paying close attention to the food I ate and how it made me feel. Today, I eat a mostly plant-based diet and when I do eat meat, it is more of a garnish than a main component of my meal.

What’s your favorite memory at NGI?

Two favorite memories come to mind when thinking about my time at NGI. One is when I first started-the lights and water turned off during a Friday Night Dinner, and I had to figure out how to get things back to normal. From this experience I personally learned that I can do anything if I focus and stay determined. I really didn’t want to fail and let my boss down at the time.

Another favorite memory is when NGI used to close for two weeks in the summer so that we could do a deep clean of the kitchens. Everyday we would have a staff lunch together in the lecture room, and it was great to bond with others. The community at NGI is a big reason why I love being here.

How did you work your way up to Operations Manager?

I started as a dishwasher but was always finding different ways to help out. One day I was asked if I could create a requisition box for a class and I was able to do it with no problems. I then started training as a Steward. I’ve worn many hats since then including Friday Night Dinner Host, Front Desk Manager, and now, Operations Manager. I consistently try to stay well-rounded in my work and help out wherever I can.

Can you explain your role as Operations Manager?

As Operations Manager, I am in charge of all of the stewards and class assistants. I basically make sure that the wheels of the school keep turning and everything, from a recreational class to a Friday Night Dinner to a private event, goes smoothly.

What is your favorite food to cook at home?

I tend to cook a lot of simple meals at home, but one dish that my friends and family love is my shrimp ceviche. This dish is inspired by NGI alum Chef Myra Kornfield’s ceviche recipe in her cookbook Cooking with the Muse, which I helped recipe test. I don’t have an exact recipe for it, but it’s about 1 pound of cooked shrimp, 2 habaneros, ½ cup of lime juice, 2 bell peppers, 1 shallot, and a handful of mint and cilantro.

How do you hope to continue making NGI a better place?
Word of mouth is powerful. I tell almost every person I meet about NGI. When I speak to people here at the school or at the Union Square Greenmarket, where I help do cooking demonstrations, I usually speak about our classes and dinners as well as our ingredient standards. People are always amazed!