Along with being a restaurant owner, Chef Lorena Garcia has also been a fixture in the television arena (including Top Chef Masters), and tonight she squares off against an amateur cook on NBC’s Food Fighters (8 pm et/pt).
Whether it’s overseeing the success of her restaurants or even penning cookbooks (Lorena Garcia’s New Latin Classics), Garcia is often juggling a full plate of activities. But, as you can see from the conversation below, Garcia is passionate about her journey, as she talks about her love for Food Fighters and explains why traveling is one of the most important aspects in expanding one’s culinary skills.
Q: What do you love about the show as a participant?
Garcia: I love that it’s a show the entire family can watch. It’s a game and a competition at the same time. It’s about having fun, having the entire family watching a competition show where amateurs bring their best signature dishes and they have to test it against celebrity chefs. It gives everyday home cooks a once in a lifetime opportunity to compete against world class chefs in a culinary show where they can make up to $100,000. It’s a life changing experience ,so it’s not just for us to have a good time, but also for the contestants to make a lot of money.
Q: I know you can’t spoil what you’re making tonight, but what was it like making a dish on the fly against your respective opponent? Was it an easy process for you because of your education and vast experience?
Garcia: Yes for me, it’s always studying and knowing about different cultures and different dishes. We only show up with our knives. We have no preparation. No recipes. No time to think. That way the field is a little bit more leveled when it comes to cooking against the amateur chefs.
Q: In your world, how much is competition part of what you do. On the flip side, have you made a lot of friends along the way as a chef?
Garcia: Absolutely for both things. In the restaurant business, you’re always competing. I think that’s good and healthy – that keeps you on your tippy toes and you will be on your very best when it comes to my restaurants.
And also, it’s a beautiful and huge collaboration. I have celebrity chefs that are dear friends of mine that I love them so much. I learn every day from them. I learn every day from home cooks. It’s a matter of taking these experiences and applying it to your cuisine and just learning and getting better every day.
Q: Was traveling the best education for you as a chef?
Garcia: 100 percent. I think my travels throughout Italy, France, Asia and learning about different techniques and types of cuisines, that to me opened my eyes to the possibilities. As a chef, you always need to stay current with new cooking methods, what is out there, and new ingredients. You always have to enrich your mind in terms of your dishes and stay current. Yes, for me, it’s a big part of my education as a chef.
Q: You have a natural ease with the camera. When people ask you for advice on working in television, what advice to you generally give?
Garcia: For me, it’s always keeping a true connection between who you are when they turn the cameras on. Usually when you are on television, you adopt maybe a behavior that is maybe not true to yourself. When something happens or you make a mistake, if you’re not connected to who you really are, you might get lost.
So for me, what has always worked is that I am always the same person even if the cameras are on or off. So keep true to yourself, and show what you can do. And you will be able to connect with the audience.
Q: Does it ever get old for you when it comes to seeing contented and smiling faces after they’ve tasted your signature dishes?
Garcia: You know it never gets old. (That is) the energy and motivation that keeps me going. I love when I’m making something, even seeing my friends and my family’s faces. This weekend I went to North Carolina at a BBQ to relax, and I set up in the kitchen and created new recipes.
The best recipes come when I’m relaxed and when I’m cooking for my friends and family. When I see their reactions, that’s what motivates me to take that recipe to the next level.
Q: From your travels and as a restaurant owner, do you see the world as a big place or do most people have a universal approach when it comes to cuisine?
Garcia: I think you have a variety of cultures so that can be a new world for everybody. But I think the language of food and flavors and ingredients, it is universal. A person who is open to try new flavors and new cultures will be able to recognize the similarities when it comes to flavors and cooking. I think it’s a combination of the two.
Q: Thank you so much for your time?
Garcia: Thank you and be well!
Will Garcia put the firehouse cook in his place and emerge victorious? Check out Food Fighters tonight on NBC (8/7c).