Creating the Flavors of Chica
An Interview with Chef Lorena Garcia
In a city where impressive fine dining options can be found just around every corner, Chica stands out for translating the common thread among Latin American dining into something deliciously edible. Combining the regional and traditional flavors of Mexico, South America, and Central America, Executive Chef Lorena Garcia presents a modern menu which elevates street food into a truly unique culinary experience. As the first Latina executive chef on the Las Vegas strip, Venezuelan-born Garcia brings the vibrancy and sense of community found throughout Latin America to this award-winning restaurant at The Venetian.
Making the Menu
Featuring Chica by Lorena Garcia
Brock Radke (Food Editor, Last Vegas Weekly) [0:00:06]: When you think about it, it’s a very unique dining destination, probably one of the most unique restaurant cities in the world. You’re talking about a stretch of four miles on a historic street and within those four miles you have more fine dining restaurants probably than any other place in the world. Today, people don’t come to Las Vegas just to gamble; people come specifically to eat.
John Kunkel (Restaurateur & Owner, Chica) [0:00:37]: Giving birth to something in Las Vegas was a big deal. No longer is it okay just to have a seat in a restaurant available for your hotel guest. We wanted to be first. We didn’t want to be like anybody else in the market and we wanted to offer something different. This is not just another project for us, this is very personal and we want to get it right.
Brock Radke (Food Editor, Last Vegas Weekly) [0:00:54]: To have other cuisines from South and Central America represented on this one menu, is kind of a risky move, on the strip where only kind of calculated risks are taken.
John Kunkel (Restaurateur & Owner, Chica) [0:01:14]: I wanted to put somebody at the head of the kitchen that really understood that ‘roll up your sleeves get it done’ mentality. Lorena knows those cultures and those flavors and it was just the perfect choice.
Lorena Garcia (Celebrity Chef, Chica) [0:01:18]: I just wanted to be that ambassador and really bring the common thread of Latin America in terms of the ingredients, experience, the soul, energy, blood, connection to the menu and to the people that are going to come to Chica. That’s why I’m so excited being able to bring those flavors to a setting of this magnitude.
Fantastico, fantastico! So this is the line. What we have over here is a little bit of taco.
It’s never been done before. This is the first restaurant of this kind. I’m taking the street food and maximizing it to the highest level -- elevating it in a way that you have never had before. I think it’s probably the stigma that you would find tortillas in a salsa when you can find every single Mexican restaurant. When you walk (in) to Chica then you realize that it’s something completely different.
And there it is, chicken chicharrones.
I’m fusing flavors, techniques, and ingredients from Peru, from Brazil, from Venezuela, from Argentina, and from Mexico.
This is the real deal. We're gonna marry all these ingredients together
It is regional but at the same time traditional. You have the spectrum of beautiful techniques that go throughout the entire menu representing Latin culture in each country as well. And that’s what Chica is about.
Andrea Bennet (Editor-in-Chief, Las Vegas Magazine) [0:02:38]: In the midst of Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse, all of these very high-powered male chefs you have Lorena Garcia just turning out incredible food.
Lorena Garcia (Celebrity Chef, Chica) [0:02:49]: This is the wall of the culinary titans at the Venetian. The fact that I can stand next to my peers, the people that I admire and being able to break the boy’s club, being able to be the first Latina on the strip…
John Kunkel (Restaurateur & Owner, Chica) [0:03:01]: I think it’s amazing that Lorena is on the Wall of Chefs. I think to see that for the first time is just kind of awe-inspiring.
Lorena Garcia (Celebrity Chef, Chica) [0:03:08]: It was a moment of realization, of awareness, of thankfulness, of being humble but at the same time owning this moment in my life.
Okay guys, this is it. We’re about to service. We’re about five minutes away. This is a labor of love. We are pioneers into what we’re serving and what we’re making in this beautiful setting. So let’s rock it out guys. One…two…three…Chica!
John Kunkel (Restaurateur & Owner, Chica) [0:03:35]: There are a lot of reasons people come to work in a restaurant, right? They want to believe in the concept, they respect authenticity, they respect a commitment and passion that goes in and I think they see that in Lorena.
Sarah Steele (Pastry Chef, Chica) [0:03:46]: I instantly felt connected to her the moment that we talked. She has that nurturing touch and sometimes you need that mom to say like, “You’re doing a great job and this is beautiful and just be gentle and love it.”
Lorena Garcia (Celebrity Chef, Chica) [0:03:59]: She couldn’t do a better job, but I think she has…you have a little bit of Venezuelan in you, I think.
I want the energy to be love. I want that every person that is making a dish in that incredible line -- they’re just transmitting love. We’re transforming the aggressive level of the kitchen into passion.
John Kunkel (Restaurateur & Owner, Chica) [0:04:16]: That’s what a great restaurant is, right? Everybody on your staff takes it personally and they care about what’s going on in there and making sure that every guest has a perfect experience.
Lorena Garcia (Celebrity Chef, Chica) [0:04:46]: One of the things that you find in Chica is exactly what you will find in a home in any country in Latin America. It’s that nurturing, it’s that getting together and being able to enjoy life, friends, and enjoy (you know) family in a special way. How you do it is around the table and that sentiment, that love, that connection it goes beyond what you are actually tasting. Every single menu item, every single cocktail, every single glass of wine, every single person that comes to your table that represents Chica is going to have that connection and those moments of love.
John Kunkel (Restaurateur & Owner, Chica) [0:05:26]: If you’re from Central and South America, we did this respectful version of what you’ve grown up with and highlighted that. I think that’s a wonderful feeling and a wonderful thing to say.
Lorena Garcia (Celebrity Chef, Chica) [0:05:45]: The menu is my history and since the early ages of my career up to who I am today, and finding that real voice of who I am as an artist. What is that message that I wanted to give? And it is definitely the connection of my culture, of who I am, and the passion that I feel and breathe every day through something that I love that is food -- my art.