Q&A: Lorena Garcia
Chica Las Vegas opened at The Venetian two years ago, bringing a diverse array of Latin and South American flavors to the Las Vegas Strip for the very first time. Mexican cuisine has become a standard offering at casino resorts, but celebrity chef Lorena Garcia, who you might recognize from Top Chef Masters or her weekly cooking show on Univision, teamed with 50 Eggs Inc., creators of the Yardbird restaurant next door, to create an exciting menu full of dishes from Venezuela, Peru, Brazil and Argentina. “It’s been challenging and at the same time very rewarding,” Garcia says of creating the Chica experience. “It’s been a wonderful experience and we continue to grow and the menu continues to evolve. It’s about how we describe the dishes so they’re more approachable for everyone while still keeping our standards high.”
Now that you’ve got a couple of years under your belt, what has surprised you the most about doing business on the Las Vegas Strip?
We’ve had a few surprises. I think I’ve learned to give credit to my customers. People are more open to trying new flavors and exploring new cultures through food, and I didn’t think I was going to find that in Las Vegas. I learned early on to give that credit to the customer and it paid off, and it usually does, to stick to your guns.
You are used to serving a diverse, international audience, and Las Vegas has become a true international destination. Have you seen visitors from all over the world in Chica?
Oh, 100 percent. They are literally from all over the world and it’s been very interesting to see people from different Latin American countries come in.
What has been their reaction?
The comments I hear from every table is just how flavorful the food is. It’s about the approach to each ingredient and letting people know we don’t open cans, everything is made from scratch. There’s something to be said that we have a masa program and (we) make the tortillas. Those are the little details that make a huge difference. We keep the tradition in there and that is very important.
What you’ve done with your restaurant at The Venetian is really the story of your career, spreading awareness of Latin cuisine beyond what is considered familiar.
It’s all about the food, but here at Chica it’s also about creating ambience. Some days I come in here and with the music and the positive, festive mood, it’s like throwing a party in my house.
The Venetian has added a handful of new restaurants recently serving some exotic flavors from all over the world. Do you ever find time to go check out your neighbors?
I know chef Ricardo (Zarate of Once at The Palazzo) but I haven’t been able to try his place yet. People ask me about my favorite places to go in Las Vegas when I come, but I always go to the kitchen and make a family meal for the staff and we all eat together here. That’s my favorite because I get to connect with my team. They are my family here and they have my baby in their hands. I rarely get out.
Chica sort of got out in front of this new wave of very different restaurant styles. It’s an impressive achievement.
When we were granted this space, I was so blessed and grateful and honored because there were many big brands coming after this prime location. We had to be up to par to fit the standards, which are very high. They’re going for it here.
What does the future look like?
We’re going to take it to Miami and London and Chicago. We’re searching for new locations to take the brand to what it needs to be, which is global. Chicago and London were going to be the next two cities, but John Kunkel (of 50 Eggs Inc.) called me up and said he found (a spot) in Miami and I couldn’t say no. It’s my backyard so it makes sense to drop in there next.