From watching his grandmother cook in his hometown of San Juan, Puerto Rico, to leading the culinary team as Executive Corporate Chef of Ruth’s Chris, Chef Abdiel Aleman knows that the right mix of determination, hard work, and caring for others are all key ingredients in the journey to success.
“Be the first one in, last one out,” Chef Abdiel advises. “Share your trade and train others so they become a part of it.” Another secret to his success? “Treat everyone with respect. And spend time with your people, get to know them.”
Chef Abdiel’s career journey was defined by several inspiring mentors, including Chef Tenney Flynn – the Corporate Chef when Abdiel joined Ruth’s Chris 28 years ago – as well as our founder, Ruth Fertel. It was Chef Flynn who encouraged him to formalize his career by getting a degree in culinary arts, and Ms. Ruth also became part of his education in her own way.
When he was 16 years old, he landed his first job in the kitchen in Puerto Rico – flipping burgers and making hot dogs – and then became a dishwasher at a local Chinese restaurant. When he heard a well-known steak house was opening nearby, he joined their team as a dishwasher.
But Chef Abdiel had big plans. Every morning, he arrived one hour early to set up the dish area, so he could attend kitchen trainings and learn the menu. By the time Ruth’s Chris San Juan opened, he had learned how to make every dish. His leaders quickly took notice of his strong work ethic and desire to learn, and gave him the opportunity to join the kitchen staff as a line cook. “I just kept learning every day … and fell in love with it,” says Chef Abdiel.
After training closely with Chef Flynn in San Juan, he moved to New York to obtain his degree from the Culinary Institute of America, and worked his way through school as a cook at a Ruth’s Chris franchise location. Then, Chef Abdiel crossed paths with Chef Flynn again and Flynn recruited him as an Assistant Kitchen Manager for the San Juan restaurant. Just six months later, he was promoted to Executive Chef.
Throughout his journey, Chef Abdiel has held numerous leadership roles, training hundreds of team members in and out of the kitchen while also carrying on Ms. Ruth’s legacy.
While working as Executive Chef in San Juan, Chef Abdiel had the chance to visit New Orleans to work side-by-side with Ms. Ruth. Seeing firsthand how she treated everyone like family was incredible, but he’d experienced the impact of Ms. Ruth’s leadership even earlier in his time with the company.
His mother passed away as he was starting out at the San Juan restaurant, but Chef Abdiel only had a limited amount of days off. Somehow word about his situation made its way back to Ruth. He received a call from the home office granting a week of paid leave, and he could request additional time if needed. Both the home office and Ms. Ruth personally sent flowers to his mother’s funeral. “That’s when I realized I was in the right place,” he notes. “Why would I go anywhere else?”
Carrying on that legacy of caring for others is of utmost importance to Chef Abdiel. And that shines through in his dedication to training team members and making sure they feel like part of the family, the Sizzle. He says, “Spending time with your people and getting to know them is extremely important to me.”