World-renowned chef, caterer, television host, nutritionist and author, Chef LaLa’s life is a poetic maze. In our intimate interview I tried to decode the operating principles behind her success with pre-written tailored questions. Lost in a labyrinth of emotions from hysterical laughter to eyes laden with tears, my one hour scheduled interview turned into an entire evening of sharing, learning new cultures, dining, and co-mingling with amazing people in her life. I couldn’t have asked for more.
Picture it - vibrant yellows, passionate reds, succulent shades of brown, crisp white, the deepest purple, all laid out like art on canvas. Yes, this was the fruit plate awaiting me when I entered the beautiful suite at the Hotel Contessa for our interview. ART. I immediately noticed the artist in LaLa before I even met her. Then a beautiful smiling face approached me; it was an incessant smile that beckoned wisdom and love at the same time. Before we even had a chance to sit down and fully settle in to “interview position”, she had me entranced in the most joyful conversation. I felt like I had just run into a long lost friend - but I had never met this woman in my life. WARMTH. LaLa exuded warmth like none I had ever felt.
“Here, taste this.” She said - pouring a sugary substance onto the side of my plate and handing me a strawberry to dip it in. “You’ll like it, I promise”. With a slightly curious look on my face, I did as instructed, dipped the strawberry into the sugary confection and sealed my lips around the juicy goodness. “Mmmmm”, I said. I am a sucker for sugar, and as unusual a habit as it seemed, I was all for sticking my strawberry back in that sugar for a second round. “Told you it was good”, she smirked with a near childish grin. I really felt like I was getting away with something evil until she chimed in - “It’s Z-Sweet, the zero calorie sweetener that REALLY tastes like sugar.” Well, that was a shameless plug if I had ever heard one, but she was right! If I can eat a spoonful of that stuff after every scoop of peas I’m sold!! BELIEF. SUPPORT. This is when I realized - if LaLa believes in something, she really supports it. When she doesn’t believe in something she is not shy to back away and say no.
We live in a society where it is so hard to eat healthy and in a town filled with delicious Latin food. I asked LaLa how we could balance the good with the bad.
“Being fit is important to me but I have always struggled with it, which is one of the reasons I became a nutritionist. I love food and it is a huge part of my culture, but I have learned that we don’t need to sacrifice flavor to meet our goals.”
“First of all, would you put regular gasoline into your SLR McClaren? No, you wouldn’t dream of it. Yet you will put some nasty stuff in your body - and you can’t trade that baby in. Women, we are nurturing by nature. We do the best we can as parents and then we put ourselves on the back burner. We’re not lazy, we just run out of time - and energy. Did you know there is the equivalent of 64 packets of sugar in a Biggie Size Coke? If you must drink something sweet, replace it with non-calorie drinks. If you must eat French fries, order a SMALL fry. Buy a good Teflon pan - you will need less oil. If it comes in its own natural wrapper, it’s usually a good choice.”
Chef LaLa is like that SLR McClaren - the perfect hybrid of business and bravado. She is a major part of change and although has suffered many setbacks in life, has never become a victim of them. From a tragic car accident several years ago to people doubting her success there is a point in every day where it would be easy to give up, but she never does.
Speaking of love, I asked LaLa about that too. She didn’t marry until pretty late in life and I wondered how that affected her if at all.
“When I was 30 I thought ‘I need to be married.’ So I went out in search of marriage. I probably could have found it, but it would not have been right. I needed to remember the wise words of my father from when I was young - I needed to pick the man that was right for me, not marry the man that was ready to get married. I was lucky I waited, because had I not I never would have met Jeremy - my one true love. He really is my rock. You see, when we are driven by the moment we often don’t give ourselves enough credit, and that is typically when we make poor decisions.”
Although I didn’t get all the details of LaLa’s business endeavors as she was much too humble to share them, I do believe I figured out those “operating principles” that make her so successful. In our interview she taught me how warmth and strong belief systems make her shine. Dining at Acenar she showcased how important passion for what you do becomes - in her case, food. She also showed me the impact of family in her life, from having her Dad join us for dinner (he ultimately became my favorite element of our entertainment)! Having friends and taking the time out to spend with them shone through as well, as she turned me from stranger to dear friend in record time.