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Cala’s chef-owner sees her work as a daily performance

In the restaurant business, “You have to keep everyone excited,” she says.

Cala’s chef-owner sees her work as a daily performance
[Photo: Arturo Olmos]
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You have to be kind of crazy to embark on [this career]. And you have to be crazier to keep on doing it after 21 years, because it is completely excruciating. It is a full-full-full-full-full-time job. If you’re serious about what you do, you never stop thinking about it. I’m physically strong and can put up with long hours of work and being on my feet and cooking all day or having events [where] you’re moving around all day. Restaurants are always going, and it’s sort of like you’re having the same performance every day, but it isn’t the same. You have to keep everybody excited, as if it were the first day, or the only day.

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People in restaurants are used to solving problems. That is one of our biggest strengths. When you’re successful in restaurants, it means you’re doing something that the public finds attractive enough to make it a business and to make it keep on existing. And I feel that speaks highly of one’s ability to fix things before they are a [major] problem.

Time she gets up: 6 a.m. “One of the challenges of my profession is that it isn’t very routine-based. I’m a very flexible person. When I did my book earlier this year [My Mexico City Kitchen: Recipes and Convictions], I was waking up early to write for a couple of hours every morning, before life started for everyone else.”

First thing she does in the morning: “Have a cup of coffee.”

Email strategy: “I have a son who goes to school now in Mexico City. The bus picks him up at 6:55. After he leaves, I get on my phone or computer to see what life looks like that day, and if there are any urgent matters that need my attention.”

Trick to maintaining energy: “I drink a lot of water throughout the day. I find that when I don’t have water, sometimes I’m like, ‘What’s wrong?’ That’s important to me. And sleeping at least eight hours, three nights out of the week.”

Basic work philosophy: “Do whatever I can at the time I think about it.”

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Mantra: “‘Stick to a plan.’ Otherwise [my day] just gets too full of what everybody needs of me, rather than [what I have] planned out for myself.”

Time she goes to bed: 10 p.m. “But it doesn’t always happen. Actually, most times it doesn’t happen.”

A version of this article appeared in the Winter 2019/2020 issue of Fast Company magazine.