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The Antelope

UNK says ‘gracias’ to Chilean chef, Sodexo staff

Francisco Layera in the UNK cafeteria


It was in Chile that a 14-year-old boy discovered his passion for cooking, specifically in his grandmother’s kitchen, crafting handmade empanadas to sell on the weekends. At the young age of 17, Francisco Layera attended culinary school to perfect the art of bringing joy to others through cooking. 

There, he studied for two years before travelling to France where his career blossomed in the course of a decade. Layera lived in Italy for half of that time, specializing in seafood, pizza and pasta. He moved on to master the lobster dishes of the Dominican Republic, the tuna ports of Puerto Rico and the specialties of Venezuela.  

Layera’s international adventures eventually returned him to his home country to work for 25 years with Sodexo, a multinational corporation based in France that manages 50 chefs in 72 countries around the world. He has also coached world champion teams of young chefs. 

After 40 years of refining his art, Layera was transported to the University of Nebraska at Kearney to share his talents with the students shuffling through the cafeteria lines between classes.

“I love this. Every student is calm and polite here. The loud market is very different in Milwaukee,” Layera said. “In the middle of the United States are very special people in a perfect, small, and clean city.”

UNK was thrilled to welcome Executive Chef Francisco Layera to the Market @ 27th in the Student Union. He was not only involved in the hands-on process of cooking, but he also made a point to engage with the students. 

Layera dedicated himself fully to conversations with students as they tried his dishes. While interviewing him, his sincere eyes and willingness to provide insight demonstrated his commitment to those he was serving in his profession. Layera even asked to take a selfie to document the memory.

Students were eager to write grateful messages on the large Sodexo banner before leaving the cafeteria on Oct. 14-15. 

Hannah Moravec, a freshman at UNK, was delighted and impressed by Layera’s seasoned shrimp.

“It was good, healthy, and flavorful. I thought it was really cool to try because it is a dish that you don’t really have very often,” Moravec said. “Everybody thought that it was really interesting. I think that it’s an experience that a lot of students hadn’t had before. It was unique!”

Even though I also enjoyed Layera’s shrimp, I was fascinated by the taste of his Salmon Cancato. The tender salmon was absolutely delicious and was complimented by a bed of stimulating rice and fresh greens. I thought it couldn’t possibly taste any better than it looks, but shortly realized that I was mistaken, especially after trying the creamy sauce drizzled over the steaming fish. 

The exotic Cuban cuisine introduced students to a new culture, and it was the reason behind the smiles on the faces of those who left the cafeteria. When asked what his advice to young cooks would be, Layera said, “Everyday, cook with your head, and enjoy it afterward. Your mouth and nose are just a tool. People eat everyday all over the world. Different cultures mean different dishes and different realities.” 

UNK would like to thank Sodexo and Executive Chef Francisco Layera for sharing his talents with their students and faculty. In a way, Layera’s advice is a metaphor for everyday life. One must utilize the opportunities given to them and use their experiences if they wish to pursue their passion. After all, Chef Layera’s dream began with a young boy simply doing what he loved — cooking.

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