Interview Part 3: Story of Angela’s restaurant work; what it takes to own and run a restaurant
Me: Exactly I completely agree. I read in an article that when you first started Centro, you were also working in the kitchen as a chef. Did you have prior experience as chef? And what was your inspiration behind the recipes?
Angela: So when we opened the restaurant we had a chef her name was Marta and Marta was from Panama. She was a graduate from culinary school and she was an incredible woman. So she had a sous chef her whole kitchen staff. We collaborated a lot into what was going into the menu. Then Martita got really sick like halfway through the first year (opening year of Centro) and she passed away at the end of the year. It was a really challenging time for us. Her sous chef took over, right. I mean, we were all in complete trauma, we were not sure what to do. We loved her so much and it was the first year of the restaurant. So Miguel (sous chef) took over and you know, he’s a product of his culture. He grew up in Mexico and had a really hard time with being under the supervision of somebody that was younger than him and that was a woman. I think he was able to work with Marta because Martha was older. She had sort of like this motherly kind of like way about her and Martha was a really kind woman. But when he took over and I started holding him accountable for things that were not being done or him wanting to do things different and he was super resistant. It was such a hard transition because we were mourning Marta’s death, I was trying to figure what to do and at the same time I was thrown into the dynamics of this relationship. It was not something that I was comfortable with for sure. And I'm sure that I wasn't as graceful as as I am now at the time. So it just became a super contentious relationship.
One Saturday night, we're really busy and something happened and I was like hey Miguel we can’t do this this way, and he said, I'm leaving. So I went home and I told my husband Miguel says he’s leaving. He's like, I'm sure he’s not leaving. Sure enough on Monday he came back and said he was sorry, but I was like ready to let him walk away. I said to him that day I that I knew things were difficult and that I understood that he wanted to do things his way but that things were the way they were and that I needed for him to either commit to what I needed from him or not but that threatening to leave could not be a thing. I said if you are willing to come back and work together in peace then that’s great but threaten me again. He agreed but sure enough man in one full week, the next Saturday he said he was done for good. I knew then that there was no going back. So I talked to my cousin who was working with us at the restaurant. I said to her this is what’s going on; Miguel is leaving and I’m not taking him back. So I think that if you take charge of the front of the house then I could take over the kitchen. She was like “oh shit, let me talk to my husband”. We all sat down, the whole family and after talking for a while I said, I think I can do this, and they were like, OK, you do it. Again it was out of need.
Those were the hardest years I've ever worked in my life. It was so hard. Not just because of the work, the physical work is really hard, but because I was learning as I was walking, with every step it was something new. It was like that for about five years and it was the hardest work I've ever done. But I learned a lot about myself. I learned that organization is really important. I learned about the importance of communication. When you’re organized you can have systems in place that will give structure and once you have structure then you can hold people accountable, not just yourself but everybody else and that allows people to grow.
Me: So you mentioned a little bit about the recipes being sort of like a combination of things. What exactly was it that you wanted to represent with your food?
Angela: When I took over the kitchen, I think the first six months was like, OK we need a recipe book. So I started to organize things and making sure that we were doing inventory for all the things that we didn't have in order to have a base. So as we did that I started developing things from different places. I love to read recipe books and I was traveling to Mexico a lot. I started collecting and making samples. I started pulling from what I liked. There was one person in my like when I was growing up that did a lot of cooking and that was my grandmother. I spent all of my weekends and all of my summers with my grandmother and she was a huge cook. She cooked for all of her kids and for everybody that worked for her. So it was then that I started pulling memories out of how she did things. Like, oh I remember when she used to do this, let me try that. But it was all out of the memory that I had. It was nuts, it was all of that.
Me: That’s amazing, It’s almost as if life was prepping you for this work.
Angela: I know, it’s so funny because now whenever I'm doing anything I’m like if my grandma knew, because she’s passed away, what I do for a living, I think that she would be very proud.
Me: Definitely, I’m sure that she would be very proud of all of your work.
Angela: Then I also learned recently that my grandma from my mom’s side of the family is also a cook. So it’s like part of my DNA haha.
Me: (laughs) Yes, I think that cooking is one of those things that we all learn to do but some people just excel in it, just like you said, almost as if it is in their DNA.