Chef Lorena Garcia is one of the best-known Latina chefs in the United States. Born and raised in Venezuela, Garcia has recently appeared on The Biggest Loser and The Next Great American Restaurant, and she’s served as a judge on Top Chef.
Though Garcia originally trained to be a lawyer, the cooking bug bit her early and she switched from law school to culinary school. After graduating from the esteemed Johnson & Wales, she became a foodie vagabond, traveling through Europe and Asia so that she could soak up as many different culinary styles as possible.
Garcia currently lives in Miami, where she helped found two successful restaurants: Food Café and Elements Tierra. A Lorena Garcia Cocina Restaurant recently opened at Miami International Airport, helping to expose her particular culinary brand to travelers from all over the world.
She is also helping to fight childhood obesity with her program “Big Chef, Little Chef,” which teaches children and their families how to take control of their eating habits.
And if that’s not enough, Garcia’s new cookbook, New Latin Classics: Fresh Ideas on Favorite Dishes, was published this fall. The book offers simple, 30-minute Latin meals with a healthy twist. Click here for some recipes and photos from her book. Fox News Latino managed to break into her busy schedule for a chat.
Q: How would you describe your culinary style? And why did you decide to streamline your recipes in a healthier direction?
A: My style is a global approach to Latin-inspired recipes, with a healthy twist. I decided to streamline my recipes because we need to teach our communities how to eat better and maintain a healthy diet.
Q: How is being a leading Latina chef different from other chefs you've worked with? How has being a Latina worked to your advantage?
A: The differences stem from my culture and my techniques. Being a chef is about expressing yourself through food. I don’t view being a Latina as an advantage but only as a representation of my culture here in the U.S.
Q: What did you learn from cooking on TV that home cooks would like to know and apply to their own cooking?
A: Cooking on TV is a different ballgame than cooking at home because of the time constraints and the method of delivery for preparation and cooking. You have to have a plan of action in case something goes wrong…such as a blender not working on live television, after testing it several times before going on air, a little something that has happened to me! When you’re cooking at home, you are in a much more controlled environment. What I have learned from cooking on TV is that you have to have a connection with the audience and that you need bring them back to basics.
Q: Do you find anything from your study of law that spills over into your culinary career?
A: Going to law school taught me about logic and the process of thinking. Today, not only do I apply it to my culinary career but to all aspects of my life.
Q: What do you miss most about the food in Venezuela?
A: What I miss the most is everything! The ingredients! Food in Venezuela is extremely diverse. We have a melting pot of cultures and as a result there are special dishes that range from arepas to pabellón criollo (shredded beef with beans and rice). The sazón of the ingredients — a special flavor – is something that cannot be replaced.
Q: What's your favorite Latino food? And where in the world do you go to get it, aside from your own kitchen, that is.
A: Asado Negro, traditional beef stew that is slowly roasted, or chupe or carne mechada, other stews and soups. I can find them at my mom’s house, if I can be persuasive enough to convince her to cook, that is.