Chef Carlos Gaytan immigrated to Chicago in early 1991, quickly working his way up from pantry cook to line cook at Sheraton North Shore Hotel. In May 2008, Carlos opened his own restaurant, Mexique on Chicago Avenue in Chicago, which has received much recognition since its opening. Most recently, Gaytan was awarded “Chef of the Year 2011,” by the American Culinary Federation and he was a top four finalist on Season 11 on the Bravo series “Top Chef.” Gaytan also was chosen to speak on behalf of Get Covered Illinois and urge Latinos to sign up for coverage before the deadline, March 31.
EXTRA: How did you get connected with Get Covered Illinois?
Carlos Gaytan: God always puts people on my path. I have enrolled in the marketplace and it is amazing. I am happy with the plans. I am amazed that there are people who can find the best deals for you. Sometimes we are so afraid to get insurance thinking it’s not in our budget, especially us Latinos. We think we will never get sick and we just let it pass by.
Why did Get Covered choose you as a spokesperson?
I can be a role model for not just Latinos but everyone else because I am a public figure. A lot of people respect the way I got here. I came to the U.S. illegally but I fixed my situation and now I am an American citizen and want to do everything the right way. I share my story about Get Covered because a lot of people will relate to me. I come from a humble, poor family.
Why is it important to be covered?
It is important to have insurance and find navigators that can walk you [through the process] to choose the best deals for you. It’s important for me at this age to get covered. I have back pain. Working in the kitchen is not easy.
How did you take care of your back pain?
I cried. I took the pain like a Latino macho guy. I did enroll. We are selecting a couple of plans and are in the process. We are almost there.
Are there affordable insurances in the marketplace?
When you sit with navigators, they can get you the insurance and the programs the government offers. You don’t know these things [otherwise]. Latinos that have no papers don’t know that their kids that do [have papers] qualify for those programs. It’s very important. When I opened Mexique I didn’t have any insurance.
What would you advise Latinos to eat to be healthy?
Pork (laughs). We Latinos love cooking. We don’t really understand that some ingredients can be bad for your health and that is why it is important to have insurance and to see a doctor. Sometimes you need to stop eating pork, or not to eat too much salt. I had high cholesterol for 10 years. Now I have to exercise. It’s important for us to get covered, go to a doctor to tell us what we do wrong in the cuisine.
What are your favorite things to cook?
Pork (laughs). I like a lot of red meats, seafood. Before I opened Mexique I used to cook a lot of seafood, and then I opened Mexique and I became a big fan of pork. I love avocados–my favorite ingredient.
What would you like to say to our Latino readers?
We Latinos are afraid of change. We don’t want to stop thinking outside of the box. We need to step out of the box and do great things. Coming from Mexico with no money and no English and today being here in Mexique is a beautiful story. It was a painful road. Never give up. Have a lot of faith in God and remember that it is important to get covered. Our kids need us for a long time.
This post is also available in: Spanish