NORWALK – For Sonoma Grill Executive Chef Hugo Miranda, his work in the kitchen is about more than just bringing top quality food to the residents of Norwalk and the guests at DoubleTree. His work is about family.
The 32-year-old's journey to the culinary arts began with a family tragedy.
“Eighth grade, middle school. I went to Hill elementary, and my dad passed at the beginning of the school year,” says Miranda. “At the time, I was 13…it came to a point where my 9th grade year, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with school.”
The heartbreak that came with the loss of his father knocked Miranda extremely out of focus. He says he wasn’t able to pull himself together until around his sophomore year.
“Honestly I was still kind of broken and sometimes I wouldn’t go to school,” says Miranda. “I had this program with the principal at school that I would be gone for a month and stuff like that. It was pretty much to gather myself because my dad was everything.”
Then during his sophomore year, Miranda signed up for a home economics class.
“I met this wonderful teacher, Mrs. Webb. I’m never going to forget her,” says Miranda. “She signed us up for cooking competitions, liked deviled eggs, chili competitions…that’s when her husband kind of tagged along, and he was an executive chef.”
This ended up being Miranda’s opportunity into the culinary world, as Webb’s husband Jack had connections at the development program for the Long Beach Community College for Culinary Arts.
The next several years saw Miranda “paying his dues,” working as a butcher “to make a quick buck” (though he admits he didn’t last six months in the position), using scholarships and grants to get an education, and eventually finding himself an internship at the Queen Mary. He eventually was hired as a line chef after his internship.
While Miranda was indeed working hard, a rough environment back at home only accelerated his need to progress in his career.
“Growing up in Downtown Long Beach between 21st Street and Long Beach Boulevard there was a lot of gang related areas around there…even staying at home you’d hear gunshots,” says Miranda. “It came to a point, like, I need to figure out what I want to do with my life.”
He started doing research and worked himself into positions working for high end restaurants and chefs, eventually moving himself from Long Beach to Bellflower to escape “everything that was going on at that time.”
Another big influence, both to establish his career and move away from Long Beach was his 6-year-old daughter.
“She goes to Lindstrom Lion Elementary School in Bellflower,” says Miranda. “I was looking into that for her, because like me growing up I didn’t have that privilege, meaning packing her lunch, taking her to school; everything I had to do I had to do myself…I’m giving that aspect to my daughter, to my family. I want her to get away from that.”
Then, around seven months ago while commuting to LAX through hours of traffic, Miranda found an opportunity to be closer to home: “a beautiful property in Norwalk that needed an executive chef.”
That “beautiful property” was the Sonoma Grill, part of the DoubleTree by Hilton.
Miranda now leads a team of kitchen and front of house workers, many of them young individuals themselves, and has full control of the menu – which he chooses to change every three months in an attempt to keep things fresh and seasonal.
He says that he wants the community to “see what we’re doing here.”
“The city of Norwalk, just noticing, for me the culinary world is kind of flat,” says Miranda. “I want to introduce the young-comers, or the city of Norwalk to let them know that there are chefs out here that we do get fresh ingredients, we do make everything in house…my vision here at the Sonoma Grill, I want them to try Italian-Costa Rican fusion cuisine.”