Who or what first sparked your interest in cooking?
I love to eat! I wanted to be able to recreate what I love. Actually, I think I had an interest in cooking before I even knew I did. My parents owned restaurants and cooking was just something we always did. Even when it wasn’t restaurant related, we were always in the kitchen. When I say “we,” I mean the whole family: my dad Luis, my mom Raquel, my sisters Myrna and Veronica and my brother Danny.
I was the inquisitive one that wanted to know the “why?” behind each dish my parents prepared. You see my dad has this incredible talent where he can take anything in the kitchen and make it spectacular, always the right texture and consistency. And whereas he was great at cooking himself, he had a difficult time explaining it to me. My curiosity led me to school to study cooking techniques that explained the “why” behind his magic.
Ultimately, I am the only family member with a career in the kitchen – but we are all still always in the kitchen together. The best memories I have growing up are in the kitchen…cooking.
When did you decided that your life’s calling would be in the culinary arts?
I remembered a time when I was 10; I attended an event at the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel for a Miss Mexico pageant with my parents. My father took a can of jalapenos. When the prime rib arrived, and word spread fast that someone at table five had jalapenos, we were very popular that night. At the end of the event, a server asked if they could have the juice left in the can because they were about to eat.
How could it be that a place that was hosting a Latino event not pay attention to the clientele’s palate? How could it be that in the entire building there were no other chilies -after all, we were in Latin Los Angeles! So when it came time decide where I was heading in my life, I decided to fill what I felt was void in the U.S.-representation. I love the kitchen, and I even love the hard work.
I was however frustrated with what I felt was a misrepresentation of Latino food. I tonged for homemade meals like barbacoa and pozole and wondered how I could present it beautifully. I also knew through my travels that a quesadilla in Mexico is corn masa filled with cheese, or it could also be a tortilla fitted with cheese, but in El Salvador it is sweet bread. Jalapeno poppers, while fun, were the standard Mexican buffet item, and they are not even Mexican.
Its been a process that is still ongoing. I call myself a perpetual student.
You attended the famous Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Could you share some highlights of that experience?
I love to study, no matter where I am. Paris was fun and it was a great school. People from all walks of life and different countries attend, so it was fun to meet and interact with them and learn about other cultures. I also attended the Le Cordon Bleu School in Pasadena, California. One of the pluses of the Pasadena location is that the students receive hands-on training throughout their curriculum, culminating in their final classroom in two student-run restaurants: 56r Restaurant and The School Cafe.
These two working restaurants serve the public and offer the students real- world experience in addition to their externship prior to graduation. Experience is so important and I was fortunate enough to receive a lot of mine by default at my parents restaurants, but the Pasadena school offers the experience now, too.