After enjoying my time at the Pergola Restaurant Spring Tasting Event, I was excited to sit down with their chef for a Behind the Kitchen. Originally from Ecuador, Chef Nestor Moina has worked hard to get to where he is today and is making a name for himself in the greatest city of all. I had a great time speaking with and getting to know Chef Nestor. Though cooking may not have always been a dream of his, it is clear to see that it has become his passion.

Tell me about yourself. What path led you to be the Executive Chef at Pergola Restaurant?

I came from my home country, Ecuador, when I was 17 years old. I came alone, but my sister was already here. I came primarily to work hard and earn a better future for my family and myself. I began working in a lot of restaurants as a dish washer. My employers saw how hard I worked and bumped me up to do some prep, then some salad, and then I jumped in line. I then worked as a sous chef in an Italian restaurant and through connections and the people I worked with along the way, I found Pergola Restaurant, who happened to be looking for an executive chef.

What has been difficult for you?

You know, I think for chefs like me who have the passion for what we are doing, no matter the challenge or difficulty, it seems simple because I love it. It’s always difficult when you see people leaving your team you’ve created, but I understand opportunities will come up. Right now I have a very good team. We look after each other and take care of one another.

Pergola Restaurant


What have been some of the rewards of this career?

I enjoy this job when my customers are enjoying what they’re eating. When they say the food is great, it’s a very happy moment for me. It makes me enjoy even more what I’m doing. One time a customer told me that my salmon was the best they’ve ever day. It reaffirms I’m doing a good job.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in the industry?

Get a nice pair of shoes.(laughs) But really, you’re going to be standing and on your feet a lot. Seriously though, this is a great career, as long as you have that passion. There will be difficulties, but if  it’s what you like to do, you’ll never be able to stop.

What kinds of foods did you eat growing up? Can you find the same foods today?

Growing up with my family in Ecuador, my mom always cooked me the best food. I sometimes wish my mom was here to cook for me. She cooked traditional food from Ecuador like rice and potatoes. This one dish specifically sticks out in my memory that’s called Guatita. It’s made with rice, trip from the cow, potatoes, onion, celery, peanut butter, kind of like a stew and served with a side of plantains.

I’ve found some Ecuadorian places in queens and even some in Manhattan. I try to eat at them when I can, it’s my favorite.

Currently, what are your favorite ingredients to work with at Pergola Restaurant?

Here at Pergola Restaurant we use a lot of seasonings. For hot foods, I love using onions. For example, the quinoa we make, I like to add in onions because it gives it much more flavor than just water or vegetable stock. The spices I like to use include bay leaf, cinnamon, clove, cumin, all the typical middle eastern flavors.

What do you look forward to in Spring, in terms of food?

In the spring time, I like to use a lot of fresh veggies. The owner of Pergola loves emphasizing organic and fresh produce, which I love as well. It really makes a difference to the outcome of the dish.

What do you like to do on your days outside of the kitchen?

When I take my day off I like being with my family. We’ll either go to those traditional Ecuadorian places I spoke about or we’ll stay home and I’ll cook for everyone. My daughters love when I cook. They’ll ask me to make them pizza and meatballs. I try to make my daughters happy and cook for them whenever I can. They inspire me to cook. Whatever I am doing at anytime I am always thinking of my family and what will be good for them.

Be sure to check out Pergola Restaurant for Chef Nestor Moina’s fresh and modern takes on classic Mediterranean cuisine.

Pergola Restaurant
36 West 28th Street New York, NY – Website


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About The Author

Healthy Eater

Southern girl at heart, minus the fried food. Fresh on the NY food scene, hungry for a healthy way to live in this food capital.