Neil Fuentes, the "Singing Chef," is known just as well around southern Connecticut for his musical prowess as he is for his culinary abilities. Here are some fast facts about the talented chef now helming the kitchen at Jojoto in Branford.
- He was "discovered" during a karaoke performance. Fuentes worked his way up within the local SBC Brewery & Restaurant chain in the 12 years he was employed there, eventually becoming the director of catering and training for all of the restaurants.
While singing at an SBC karaoke night, he was approached about appearing on WTNH's "Connecticut Style." For his first segment, he "went in dressed like Ricky Ricardo, with the ruffles and everything," he said, and sang an improvised song to the tune of "Cuban Pete." Now he appears monthly on the lifestyle program.
- His local TV appearances led to national exposure. Fuentes applied to be on Food Network's "Chopped" competition show and made the cut, though he didn't ultimately win the battle. His intro video puts his effervescent personality on full display, showing him dancing exuberantly in several scenes. "When I'm cooking, I'm crazy," he says in the clip. "And we have the greatest time."
He later went on to host episodes of "Hot Spots" on the Food Channel, spotlighting New Haven's Rubamba, Cromwell's Chicago Sams and Redding Roadhouse in Redding.
- He was a brand ambassador for Sabra. Working with Food Network chefs Maneet Chauhan and Chris Cheung, he starred in several "webisodes" where he cooked recipes using assorted Sabra hummus flavors and salsas.
- He's the lead singer of Sonido Libre, a Latin band. Sonido Libre is described on Fuentes' website as "a diverse group of passionate musicians bringing you Latin genres such as salsa, merengue, bachata, cumbia and mambo." The ensemble includes a bassist, violinist, trombonist, a cuatro guitarist and timbales player.
- But he's not the only musician in his household. Fuentes' husband, Billy DiCrosta, is a vocal coach. The two opened the New Haven Academy of Performing Arts together in March.
Editor's note: This headline of this story has been edited from a previous version to correct the number of tips.