Man of Many Talents Brings his Expertise to Town
Whether you know him as The Singing Chef or as an instructor at the New Haven Academy of Performing Arts, Neil Fuentes is certainly a man of many talents.
Born in Venezuela as the youngest of five brothers, Neil started his journey at a young age. Raised on a 17-acre farm, and with his older siblings going off to high school and college, Neil was the only one left to help his mother.
“Basically, I was the only helper my mom had, so I had to cook with her from the age of five or six,” Neil says.
He came to Connecticut in 1995 and began working at a restaurant to make money, but with show business being his main passion, he also joined an entertainment company in Stamford.
“I was the person who would go to bar mitzvahs and weddings and entertain people, make them dance, make them do the electric slide and all that,” Neil says.
While he working as director of catering for SBC restaurants in the state, Channel 8 approached him at an event while he was singing and serving food.
“That was crucial, because that’s what changed it all,” Neil says.
Neil wanted to do something memorable, so he showed up to the studio dressed as Ricky Ricardo, and got more requests to do more shows after that. Since then, he has been featured on shows including Chopped and Rewrapped on Food Network.
While Neil says he had a great experience and had a lot of fun on Chopped, he also took away a lot of knowledge.
“I didn’t care about the competition,” Neil says, “I was watching how they did everything, how they did interviews, because I wanted to learn on my own to start producing my own stuff.”
Now, Neil works with Telemundo, where he produces, films, and edits his own shows. However, the restaurant business is not his main focus.
Neil is an instructor at New Haven Academy of Performing Arts in East Haven. He took his first student last year, and is now producing shows and teaching a lot of people.
The main mission for Neil at the academy is giving students a professional feel as if they were getting ready to perform on Broadway or at a major theater.
“We want to bring to East Haven something that East Haven hasn’t had since I remember,” Neil says, “There are dance schools, there are voice teachers around here, but I am in charge of training the students for real life.”
Neil says that in order to give students that feeling of professionalism, the Academy needs to produce shows that are of a professional caliber.
“We don’t do recitals, we don’t do competitions, we do productions,” Neil says, “We utilize special effects and audio visual effects and all this stuff in order to make the student feel that they are in a professional stage.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of his role as an instructor is that he works with many children who have special needs. Neil says those students feel at home and very comfortable at the Academy.
“I like to see when parents tell me, ‘Listen, we’ve tried everything and nothing has worked; this is the only thing that has worked for them,’” Neil says, “That, I think is my best payment.”
A project that Neil is working on that he was excited to announce is called micro theater. Neil is going to create 15- to 20-minute plays that will be performed by his adult students.
The performances will take place at the academy, and Neil says people will be able to attend up to four shows per night. The cost is $5 per show, and anyone can attend any number of shows they would like. Neil says that the performances will be starting in the fall.
Because of his exposure from the Food Network, Neil has also been master of ceremonies for many events around town. He said that those are slow now because of his commitments to the academy, but it is still something he loves doing.
“When I do a master of ceremonies, I sing, I dance, I make it into a show,” Neil says.
With all the talents that Neil has, being involved with the academy is what he really loves to do.
“It has been a long journey, but it has been fun,” Neil says.
For information about the academy, including its Summer Musical Theater Camp, visit www.nhaopa.com.