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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to annemarie@southernfoodways.org.

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ORAL HISTORY

Oscar Diaz


The Cortez

Oscar Diaz was raised in Chicago. After a short stint in Cordon Bleu in Las Vegas, Diaz soon began learning how to cook in French restaurants in Las Vegas and Chicago. He arrived in Raleigh in the 2010s to take a job as a chef, but it was during the recession. The restaurant closed soon after he arrived. Afterward, Diaz began working with the Ibarra family at José and Sons. He noticed the similarities between southern cooking and the Mexican cuisine he grew up with, and began experimenting and combining the two cooking styles. A few years later, Diaz and his partners opened The Cortez, a seafood-driven restaurant.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, managing employees and a restaurant menu in the midst of the uncertainty of a pandemic was a great challenge. Diaz felt the pressure to go from leading in the kitchen to making difficult financial decisions for their restaurant and employees. The Cortez and Jose and Sons eventually transitioned into takeout service and continued to operate with altered menus. With changing mandates, their dining rooms reopened to hold smaller dining room capacity.

Date of interview:
2020-07-16

Interviewer:
Ellen Brooks

Photographer:

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