BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The executive chef at one of the finest restaurants in Baltimore has worked his way from a teenage dishwasher to a master chef at Harbor East’s Bar Vazquez in just 20 years.

Mario Cano Catalán’s story shows what can be accomplished with hard work, passion and opportunity.

In 1999, Catalán, then 15, immigrated to Baltimore to join his cousins.

“The reason why I come here is to work, to make some money and to support my mom and my brothers … in Mexico,” he said.

A job washing dishes then became a profession. Today, Catalán is at the top of that profession.

Six days a week you’ll find him managing, creating and cooking the Argentinian food served at Bar Vazquez.

Catalán never finished high school; in Mexico, he did not go to school past 8th grade. His education, rather, has come on the job in Foreman Wolf restaurants.

“I work(ed in) Charleston as a dishwasher for about three months,” he recalled.

He then went to Petit Louis Bistro in north Baltimore, working his way up from dishes to the hotline. After that, he returned to Charleston as a pantry chef before once again cooking in Baltimore, this time as a sous chef at Pazo, which occupied the space now home to Bar Vazquez.

Up next for Catalán was a stop at Harbor East’s Cinghiale. Finally, in 2016, Tony Foreman made him Bar Vazquez’s executive chef.

“(Foreman) said, ‘I have a movie in my head about you,’ and I was like, ‘What do you mean a movie in your head?'” Catalán said. “I didn’t get it at the time but now I get it.”

It was a movie about a self-made man, an American story where Mario is also a devoted father of an 11-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl.

“I take them to school every morning … come back to work,  spend some time with them after school and then come back to work,” Catalán said. “So I’m being dad and chef at the same time every single day.”

Catalán’s brother and cousin now work with him at Bar Vazquez where he’s been getting glowing reviews. Perhaps his favorite compliment came recently from his little girl.

“She was telling me she was very proud of having a dad who is a chef,” he said. “That is the most beautiful thing you can have in your life.”

His story is a true example of the American Dream in action.

“Everybody who comes here, for the most part, wants to do something good for their family,” he said. “They have their dreams, they have their goals.”

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