The name Luis Gallardo is not a prominent one in Houston food circles. Like the many young chefs just who work hard to get better at their craft, Gallardo spent the earlier part of his career learning English while working 60-plus-hour work weeks. Still, he worked his way up from the maki station (making rolls) as an associate roller to his most recent position as the sous to Soma Sushi's head sushi chef, Pascal Choi.
Says Choi "He's been my second in command. Whenever he's working, I don't have to worry about anything, because he does pretty much everything. He's a really nice, strong person."
Ryan Snyder, who was head of operations at Soma for several years, echoes these sentiments: "Luis is one of my all time favorite employees that ever worked for me. He is the hardest working sushi chef I've had the privilege to work with. When we first hired him be barely spoke a lick of English. He would bust his ass 60+ hrs a week and go to school to learn English on his day off. Any free time he had during breaks he was diligently studying his English book to get better. Slowly but surely he did and within a year or two spoke fluid English, better then some of the guys who have been here for over a decade. And this is to say nothing of his incredible skills as a sushi chef. He ascended from a simple roller to the #2 sushi man at Soma faster then any pupil I've seen before. His knife skills are amongst the best I've seen for a sushi chef, let alone for one so young. A more humble, ego-less, hard working chef you will not find."
Earlier this year, Gallardo noticed that he was losing weight, among other troubling symptoms. He went to the doctor and they diagnosed his problem as kidney stones, but despite taking medications, his problems persisted. A second round of tests revealed that he had cancer that had spread to his kidneys.
Gallardo underwent surgery to remove one of his kidneys, but subsequent tests revealed that the cancer had spread to his lungs; his diagnosis is now Stage 4.
He is just 24 years old. He just celebrated his 24th birthday on August 20.
To help offset the heavy financial burden of the medical costs, Gabe Medina, the executive chef at Soma, has set up a GoFundMe campaign for Gallardo. He named it "The Good Fight for Gallardo." Within two days, he's raised more than $1,000, but this is just a fraction of what will be needed to pay the costs of Gallardo's medical care. As is often the case with many who work in the restaurant industry, Gallardo is uninsured. He is set to undergo chemotherapy this week.
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Despite these dismal circumstances, Gallardo's girlfriend Yen says he's still positive and upbeat. He's been telling her, "I'm going to live. I'm gonna fight."
You can help Gallardo in his fight by donating to his GoFundMe campaign via this link: http://www.gofundme.com/luisgallardo
Another way you can help is just by eating sushi. All of the restaurants in the Azuma Group (Soma Sushi, Kata Robata, Azuma Downtown, Azuma on The Lake in Sugar Land, and Azuma Kirby) have created a sushi roll in Gallardo's honor. At Soma, it is a crunchy roll made with panko fried shrimp, avocado, cucumber and jalapeno, sriracha, and topped with chopped spicy salmon, tempura crunch and cilantro. All of the profits from the sale of the "Gallardo Rolls" will be donated to him.
Says Medina: "He's probably one of the most professional people I've worked with. As a leader, people follow him and listen to his direction and guidance. And when it comes to personalities and he's with us, he's so light hearted, he's so friendly. He's always smiling. He's very kind, friendly and loving, especially with his family. I've seen him with his girlfriend's kids. He can be stern but caring and constructive. At work, he's professional, but when he comes to family he is also a great father figure."