Q&A: Lorena Garcia
When Lorena Garcia first conceived of her own Las Vegas restaurant, it seemed a far-off dream. Now the Venezuelan native and celebrity chef (she has appeared on Top Chef Masters and owns multiple restaurants) and restaurant group 50 Eggs has fulfilled that dream, opening Chica at The Venetian, and allowing Garcia to become the first Latina chef on the Strip. She recently spoke to Las Vegas Magazine’s Nina King before presiding over the unveiling of her own Strip-side photo banner.
What do you think will set Chica apart here in Vegas?
I strongly believe that it’s the first restaurant of its kind...we are going to be able to represent all the cultures in Latin America, not only one. I always say that … you have people from Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, Brazil, and all these cultures from South America—when you come to the United States, you become one culture. Our foods, even though they are different, they have a common thread. Chiles, ajis, seeds, herbs. That common thread is the inspiration for Chica and my menu.
I wanted to have a representation of who I am today and being an American citizen who loves this country for all the opportunities it has brought me. … I wanted to represent exactly that. … This is a beautiful restaurant, the décor, the natural elements like wood, iron, the colors that are throughout the restaurant, a beautiful mixology program with the cocktails that have never been prepared before—we have a presentation of wines all from South America and, in honoring the name Chica, which means girl, we have wine producers that are women. We’re going to be representing their wines at the restaurant.
I told my team, “I want to have a huge chopping block because I want to be able to see the types of meat and the chickens that we make, they’ll be marinated and the chickens are going to be on rotisserie with this beautiful concoction with citrus. I want you to be able to see how we do it in my country, I want you to see all that action, I want you to see those flavors, I want you to see that magic … That feeling is what I want to bring to Chica. It is alive; it has a soul; if I had to describe it, it’s like soul food, but from Latin America.
Two, three years ago I came to The Venetian and I saw the wall (of chefs’ pictures on the Strip) and I said, I’d love to be on that wall with those chefs and I put it on my vision board, and I said, one day, I hope and I wish that I could be next to all those chefs. And here comes today…
So how did you get here to Vegas?
John Kunkel, my partner and 50 Eggs were working on this concept for over two years and the opportunity to have the restaurant as a mothership in Las Vegas came about because … everything was organic. Like everything in the universe, one dot connects to the other, and here I come, I didn’t even have an idea John was in Las Vegas, but we started talking and one thing led to another… Now I’m in the wall and we’re actually opening a restaurant here. I think that’s energy and all the gods got together and made it happen.
Oh, like destiny?
Yes, like destiny, but I believe you have to work on it very hard. It’s not only putting it on the vision board, but it’s the things you have to do to make it happen. So I not only put it on my vision board, but I also had everything I needed to do to get here, and God brought me here.
How do you feel about being the first Latina chef (at The Venetian)? Because that’s kind of big.
Yes it’s very big, and I’m shaking, let me tell you. It’s such an honor and I feel blessed. I don’t take it for granted, not for a moment; it’s hard for me to contain my emotions right now, since I walked into the wall. It’s what it represents to my culture. … In my first restaurant, I had 20 men working in the kitchen, I was the only woman, and I found a lot of resistance for them to work for me. … I think just being a woman I had to work harder, prepare more, just to fill the space and have them know I knew what I was talking about.
I always tell my kids, my team, you have to prepare—it’s good to see you in a television show, and in a competition show, but it’s what it takes to get there. It’s what I think people miss is that you have to be a master, you have to prepare yourself in order to achieve your goals.
Given that you have this really wide experience and these achievements, what would you say is your finest one?
Professionally? Or in my life? My finest and biggest achievement would have to be my son. He became, instantly the moment he was born, my motivation in life to continue to grow and conquer the world; to be an example for him. He is my biggest accomplishment. In this life, where I have dedicated so much to my career, I wanted to make sure I had the career down, and when he came, it made sense. My biggest achievement professionally, its where I’m at today. It is what that wall represents, Its being the first Latina chef on the Strip in an industry dominated by men… what that picture represents is so much. That’s what it is about… inspiring others to do the same. It’s all about the love.