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From backyard chef to restaurant owner, Chef Yala shares her entrepreneurial journey and rise to success

Carmen Mercedes Baez, known as Chef Yala, is a private and executive chef and owner of her restaurant, “La Cocina de Yala” Located Bronx, NY. She is also the author of the book, Becoming Chef Yala: From A Backyard To A Kitchen.*

Born in San Cristóbal, a small city in the south of the Dominican Republic, she is the daughter of Dominican parents and was raised in New York City when her parents emigrated to the U.S. 

Growing up, Yala’s mom owned a beauty salon and this was the family business. Later, Yala would own her own salon in New York, but this was not her passion. She dreamed of cooking professionally. When her mom passed away, Yala began taking culinary classes as a part of her grieving process and soon she was pursuing her passion. 

“I have always had a curious and restless mind, which has motivated me to undertake the business; I formally started in gastronomy in 2013,” says Chef Yala. 

Yala began making food for her salon clients and eventually she set up El Patio de Yala in the backyard of her salon where she cooked food on a grill. 

“I have always had a curious and restless mind.” (Photo courtesy of Chef Yala)

Yala always continued to push and expand on her dream and when she outgrew the patio space she began renting a kitchen at a car wash. While working out of the car wash, Yala faced challenges and pressures from her landlord. The owner of the car wash saw the success of Yala’s kitchen and raised the rent unfairly while also going behind her back and trying to turn her workers against her. 

Some may view these challenges as negatives, but Yala puts a positive spin on the obstacles she has faced. 

“The positive thing I took from this is that God works in a mysterious way,” Chef Yala said during the Latinas & Success panel. Without the challenges, she would have stayed at the car wash kitchen and not pushed for something better. “If I were comfortable, I would have stayed there and not have my own restaurant today and become Chef Yala.” 

The challenges pushed Yala to the next level and showed her that she could own her own restaurant and be successful. Finally, in 2017, Yala founded her own restaurant where she could grow and expand. 

Watch the full panel below

Chef Yala is glad that today Latinas are finding success more and their voices are being heard across various industries. 

“We are being more heard, we are up there, we inspire our culture so they can see that it can happen. In my case I’m a chef and I serve the community here in the Bronx as a Dominican Latina and I have a lot people that are in the culinary field that are scared so once they see me they will be like, ‘You see Yala, I can do it like Yala.’”

Becoming Chef Yala: From A Backyard To A Kitchen

Chef Yala is always eager to give back and help others on their journeys as a mentor. Her book shares a lot of her own struggles and shows the reality of starting a business in the culinary field. She recommends her book to other Latinas and minority women looking for an honest, true story of what it’s like being a Latina chef and entrepreneur.

Her parting words of advice to all aspiring entrepreneurs is to put in the hard work to make your dreams come true.  

“I love to cook but just like I like to make a nice plate, behind that plate there’s a lot of hard work. A lot of people think it’s easy just because of what you show on social media, but no, you have to pursue your dream and you have to put in the hard work. You have to focus on this and give your 101 percent in order for you to overcome.”

You might be interested: Actress Sandy Tejada speaks candidly on overcoming obstacles as a Latina in Hollywood


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Famous Latino restaurants in the US

8 Famous Latino restaurants in the US to take your Valentine 

Every Latino knows food is an essential part of our culture. Food is a form of expression and celebration. Some may even consider food a love language, expressing their affection for their loved ones through cuisine. 

To celebrate Valentine’s Day we’ve gathered some famous Latino restaurants in the US that will make the perfect setting for your next date! 

The Bazaar

The Bazaar is a famous restaurant owned by Chef José Andrés offering gourmet traditional Spanish cuisine, with locations in Miami, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. 

“A carefully curated theater of shared plates, The Bazaar consistently wows its guests with ingeniously innovative cuisine, thoughtfully created cocktails, theatrical presentations, and attentive yet unfussy service. The Bazaar takes guests on a wild sensory adventure born of José’s Spanish roots, both traditional and avant-garde, in a bold, playful atmosphere where anything is possible. Each location is completely unique, adding a fresh, ever-evolving intrigue to the world of The Bazaar.

Los Fuegos, Miami

Los Fuegos is a Miami-based restaurant specializing in Argentine cuisine. Created by Chef Francis Mallmann, a renowned South American chef, Los Fuegos’ namesake pays tribute to his childhood. Growing up in Patagonia on a cliff overlooking Lago Moreno, fire played a large role in Mallmann’s childhood and the memories of that time define him and his cooking techniques today.

“Born from a passion for the ancient art of South American live-fire cooking, Argentine grillmaster Francis Mallmann creates a contemporary asado experience with an open-fire kitchen, local ingredients and a gaucho’s touch to transform traditional rustic recipes into sophisticated, savory dishes.” 

El Charro Cafe

 

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El Charro was established in 1922 in Tucson, Arizona and is The Nation’s Oldest Mexican Restaurant in continuous operation by its founding family. Founded by Tia Monica Flin, a true entrepreneur and burgeoning chef, who came to Tucson in the 1800’s, El Charro specializes in Northern Mexico-Sonoran style and innovative Tucson-style Mexican Food. Additionally, Tia Monica Flin is well-known as “The Inventor of The Chimichanga!

“Back in those days, a woman owned business was rare enough, but El Charro was even more unique as it was truly a one woman operation, with Monica acting as hostess, waitress and chef all at the same time! Today, Carlotta Flores, our chef-author and great grandniece of Monica, carries on the tradition of Tia Monica!”

Tanta

Tanta is a Chicago-based Peruvian restaurant by Chef Gastón Acurio. Gastón founded his restaurant with the mission in mind to embrace his culture and flavors and share Peruvian cuisine around the world. 

Chef Gastón describes his restaurant as a journey. “Our menu is like traveling throughout Peru from the Pacific Ocean to playing in the desert to touring the Andes mountains, the reflection of the Lake Titicaca over the Altiplano, through the amazing colors and sounds of the Amazon Jungle… traveling, celebrating, sharing the flavors and joys of Peru and having fun with respect and gratitude to the Earth.”

CHICA

 

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Founded by Chef Lorena Garcia, CHICA offers a diverse menu drawing influences from Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and more. Based in Las Vegas with additional locations throughout the country, CHICA is a must-visit for Latino cuisine lovers. Additionally, Chef Lorena is the first Latina chef on the Las Vegas Strip. 

“Lorena’s life as a chef, entrepreneur, cookbook author, media personality, cookware designer and restaurateur has been a celebration of the cooking and passion for food that she grew up with in her native Caracas, Venezuela…Her recipes have been featured in publications such as People Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Saveur, and she has been profiled in business magazines for her significant role as a strong female Latina chef and business-owner including Kiplinger’s and Entrepreneur.”

You might be interested: 15 Best Latin American soup recipes to try this winter!

Johnny Sánchez

 

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Johnny Sánchez is a restaurant based in New Orleans specializing in traditional Mexican cooking and founded by award-winning chef, TV personality, cookbook author and philanthropist, Aarón Sánchez. As one of the world’s most distinguished Latin chefs, Aarón is passionate about preserving his family’s legacy through food and encouraging diversity in the kitchen. 

“A smart, chic and authentic restaurant that embodies the warmth of traditional Mexican cooking, and the fun and genuine hospitality that defines New Orleans. It bridges traditional Mexican food with a cutting-edge, modern approach to dining that utilizes the very best ingredients. Serious food in a fun environment is the name of the game. Stepping through the door will bring guests out of their everyday routine and into an inspired atmosphere reminiscent of Mexico City.” 

Cosme 

 

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Cosme is a restaurant in New York City’s Flatiron District serving contemporary Mexican-inspired cuisine. Founded by world-renowned Chef Enrique Olvera, he and his team create dishes rooted in Mexican flavors and traditions, while also celebrating local and seasonal ingredients from the Hudson Valley and surrounding region. 

“There’s little doubt that Enrique Olvera is the world’s best-known chef from Mexico. Olvera has become an ambassador of sorts for Mexican gastronomy, shining a light on a great world cuisine that for too long was obscured by frozen margaritas and guacamole.” –CNN

Yucas 

 

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Yucas is a Los Angeles based family restaurant that you may have heard of recently as they were featured at the Superbowl. Founded by ‘Mama’ Socorro and Jaime Herrera in a converted 10 x 10 outdoor shoe shine station, Yuca’s aka the Hut has become known for its Yucatan-style cooking and community involvement. 

Today, they continue to “bring the true flavors of Mexico one bite at a time!” And have expanded to an additional location in Pasadena.


We hope this list of famous Latino restaurants in the US has sparked some inspiration for your next romantic outing!