Kitchen Inquisition: Lorena Garcia

Chef Lorena Garcia traded her briefcase for a cutting board a long time ago, and has never looked back.


Once a lawyer by trade in her home country of Venezuela, it wasn't long after Chef Lorena Garcia's move to the States that she decided to turn in her briefcase and papers for a cutting board and chef's knife. Garcia has traveled the great cuisine corners of the world -- France, Italy, Japan and Thailand, among others -- and has cooked under world-renowned chefs such as Pascal Audin. Now, with two established restaurants in the Design District and a new hit show, America's Next Great Restaurant, Garcia sits and chats with us about what makes a good restaurant and how she's making airport food not only edible, but delicious.

I'm sure all the dishes on your menus are like your children, but which one are you most proud of?
My new restaurant, Cocina, located at the MIA, is my take on Latin cuisine done healthy and we just opened about a month ago. I’m very proud of my grilled chicken mango and Caribbean jerk chicken salad. We serve it as a salad or as a wrap, and either way it has tons of texture. It has caramelized walnuts, mango, Caribbean char-grilled and jerk seasoned chickened.
Most popular item on the menu?
It’s probably too soon to tell, but I would say the above salad. Also the veggie burger or our grilled chicken salad with cilantro-Caesar seasoning are both great. They’re all coming out great, really. Our dishes need to be easily made, since it’s at the airport.

How would you describe Miami's dining scene? 
Oh wow, I would say it’s very eclectic. We have a melting pot of cultures here in Miami. I always tell people they would be amazed with the holes in the wall as well as the big-name restaurants they’ll find when they come. It’s so hard to choose.

The secret to cooking perfect pasta? 
It has to be cooked al dente; it has to have enough water boiling. If you put too much or too little, it doesn’t have the space to cook, the starches don’t properly absorb. I always cook it al dente and toss it with the sauce so that it’s “manchada.” I always save a little bit of the sauce and “stain” the pasta with the sauce.
At what point did you realize you were destined to be a chef? 
Oh wow, I guess I always wanted to be a chef. In my country of Venezuela, you always learned but there were no culinary schools. I sailed through law school because it was the family business, but moving to the states and having the opportunity to go to culinary school and work in the restaurants really did it for me.
The 5 ingredients every kitchen should have?
Salt and pepper -- you need to season everything. I’m a fan of herbs, so I would say cilantro, basil. You can have a good bottle of Prosecco chilling in the fridge. You could have a lot of fun with that!
The 5 utensils every kitchen should have?
A knife for sure, pots and pans, spoons, a good spatula, and call it a day.

First dish you learned to make?
Breakfast -- scrambled eggs. It’s called “juevos eericos;” it is scrambled eggs with green onions and cilantro. It’s a South American spin on the regular scrambled eggs. And arepas.

Favorite dish to make at home?  

Pasta, definitely. I also love to make sauces. I have so many that I love to make, but I make a killer sundried tomato and mushroom sauce -- it’s delicious and so creamy with rigatoni.

What could you live off of for the rest of your life?

I could have brunch the rest of my life—it’s the perfect combo of breakfast and lunch -- they’re the two best meals of the day!
Tell us about your latest project, America’s Next Great Restaurant?
I’m extremely excited for the show. It’s all encompassing, it leads you to hire your staff, make your uniforms and slogans and the entire brand, as well as the cooking. That’s what makes it different. It needs to be good food and an accessible concept that’s workable and profitable -- a lot of things go into a successful restaurant in order to make it in the industry.
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