Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, culinary arts was not a conventional career path. But even as a young child, I was particularly interested in learning new recipes and techniques. My first role in the kitchen was cooking my family's breakfast – because mine tasted better.
I originally planned to be a lawyer. I finished my Associate's degree in paralegal studies while learning English simultaneously. I soon realized that my heart was not in it and I wasn't satisfied. I left the legal world behind and enrolled at Johnson & Wales University, graduating with a Bachelor's degree in culinary arts. (Most Recently, I also received my honorary doctorate degree at Johnson and Wales University.) My culinary career started in Miami. After graduating, I opened Food Café in Miami's Design District. Later that year, I established Elements Tierra in the Design District as well. I met restaurateur John Kunkel during my tenure in Miami, we've been friends ever since.
One day I reconnected with this like-minded friend who shared my passion for food. I called John Kunkel CEO of 50 Eggs Hospitality and told him that I wanted to open another restaurant, and he was interested! We decided to unite our love for the culinary scene and authentic Latin cuisines with Chica.
Located inside the Venetian on the Las Vegas Strip, Chica draws inspiration from classic renditions of Latin American cuisine with influences from Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. Chica is the restaurant that I've always dreamed of creating. With the blessing of my partners I have been able to celebrate the flavors and cooking techniques of Latin and South America.
One of the biggest lessons that I've learned is that being knowledgeable in this industry is a huge asset. My law degree definitely came in handy – people who have worked with me always wondered how I was so good in business and handling contracts and in business. (You should see the looks on their faces when I tell them I went to law school before I became a chef!) If you're not business savvy in that capacity, hire a well-respected team. You need to surround yourself with mentors and professionals who know the ins and outs of the industry – people that always have your best interest at heart.
For years there were so few women working as executive chefs that it was hard to rise up through the ranks. Fortunately it's all changing now. Today, more and more women are training as executive chefs and building their own restaurants, brands, cooking on their terms, creating their own legacies and building their own teams of strong and independent women, as I have done with my partners at Chica.
About the author: Lorena Garcia is the executive chef of Chica Las Vegas, an entrepreneur, mom, cookbook author, media personality, cookware designer and restaurateur.