California-raised chef Gerardo Gonzalez left the popular downtown spot El Rey to launch his own restaurant at the end of 2016. Lalito is now in it's tenth month and it's Mexico-meets-California menu has earned rave reviews.
When and where are you most creative?
Early in the morning or late at night. They day is great for inspiration but can be very distracting.
How did you get your start?
I was in San Francisco, working as a waiter while pursuing photography. Everyday I found myself becoming more and more fascinated by the kitchen, to the point that I gave up on both to pursue a culinary career.
What are you working on right now?
I am currently into the ninth month of my restaurant, Lalito, located in downtown Manhattan. After the initial craziness of all that comes with starting a business, let alone a restaurant, I am feeling very settled into the space with a great staff to collaborate with.
I am also looking beyond the restaurant and what it means to be a cook and am focusing on connections/brainstorming with other like minded folk to create something bigger that will contribute to our communities.
What is success to you?
Success is the ability to have honest collaboration with people you love, respect, and admire in all that you do. Success is when you stop using others and societies means of measuring worth, when you find that you have your own glory within you and you have the capacity to share the glory within others.
Do critics matter?
No. No review or "top list" can ever compare to the connections you make with your community when you create something that comes from a genuine place. Although media attention can come from this, its never the other way around.
Obviously you've seen success in your career but can you tell us about a time you failed?
Success, perceived or not, is a hard thing to maintain throughout your career. Often it comes with sacrifice of personal relationships. The hardest part has been navigating that success while making mistakes/neglecting the ones you love. Sometimes you learn that cost when its too late, but any failure can be a stronger tool to be more self reflective and accountable and a tremendous opportunity for growth. Hopefully you realize the important ways to be a better human to yourself, loved ones, and a greater good that goes beyond career milestones.
Do you think about legacy?
I now think about what impact my actions and inactions have on all of my relationships, professional, personal, and as a human being in this society. As a queer person of color, I think about how I can contribute to my community, how I can love and preserve myself so that I can fight the good fight. The legacy I pursue now is bigger than myself and more of a collective legacy to lift ourselves up.
What advice do you have for someone looking to break into your industry?
Stay true to yourself, open your eyes, and listen to people. A restaurant will never define you, you should define it.
Did you ever give up (or want to give up)? What were the circumstances?
Sometimes after finding "success" the hardest part is remembering how you got there and who you are. I wanted to give up so many times opening up the new restaurant. I lost an incredible bond/relationship at my own hands through neglect. It made me question why I sacrifice my happiness for an often-punishing career. I felt lost and confused and defeated. It was hard to go through the demands of a restaurant and maintain what it means to be decent, loving human being. To let go of self and make sure you were present with everyone you interact with. Though I didn't give up, I did lose something meaningful. I am lucky that I have had the support of so many friends, coworkers, and loved ones. I am thankful that I have the capacity to see where I erred and can effect actual growth so that I will never let that happen again.
What trends in your field do you find most exciting or are you most optimistic about? What about your field is frustrating? What would you like to see change?
I am so optimistic and proud to see so many of my peers, specifically those often marginalized, realize that there are a lot of fucking problems with this industry, and society as a whole, and are rejecting the notions of what it means to be a chef or open a restaurant, or participate in this profession. They are becoming more assertive, care less about the status quo, are speaking up, and uniting to overhaul all a system that oppresses them and others.
Food trends frustrate me, but what can you do?
How do you plan to build on your success so far? Is there anything you fear will set you back?
For whatever the reasons, I have been fortunate enough to be recognized for my work. Though I have struggled to come to terms with what that means, I am now accepting that there is an opportunity to use that for something greater than myself.
I am in the brainstorming phase with friends and loved ones for creating space for our communities on our own terms. Its been a great process so far, one that has been empowering, hard, and joyous.
What was the first moment you knew you were going to be able to do this as a job – not necessarily your first big break or success, but the first time you thought, "This is it, this is my career"?
Leaving San Francisco after living there for eight years, I moved back home and then to Nantucket, working as a cook full time. Moving across the country to cook was the first time I knew this was the career I chose
What is your morning routine like?
Yoga or training in the park or a long bike ride or an even longer shower. Start the day of treating my body right so that the day goes smooth.
What are you most excited about for the future?
I feel truly blessed to have surrounded myself with inspiring people, I am excited for the clarity and direction I have found through this all, building a foundation so that I can contribute my whole, with others, to a greater calling. I am finding empowerment in allies and the energy and optimism to create something. A lot of plans in the works. A lot of focus on the long game to fight injustice using food and cooking as my chosen means of fighting.
What are you most worried about for the future?
That self and collective liberation will come out of conflict. I am not, so much, worried about that actual conflict, just how we can further protect ourselves through unity and support.
Are you good at giving advice? What is the best advice you've ever given?
Something I've learned the hard way, is never run from confrontation. Confronting others is an extension of confronting self. It is a disservice to your growth not to.
Are you good at receiving advice? What is the best advice you've ever received?
The first line of offensive measure against injustice is self-preservation and care. Just the act of living and breathing and thriving is a means to give your full self to inspire and create. Letting go of self destructive patterns and actualizing the best you can be is enough to change the world around you. Every step you take is an opportunity to further your cause.
What makes a person beautiful? What makes you beautiful?
Soul and compassion is what makes people truly beautiful. The power of listening and contributing to something bigger than yourself makes you beautiful.
What makes me beautiful is my capacity to look at my mistakes, insecurities, and doubts and accept them as they are. To be sensitive and strive to become a better person.
What are you most proud of?
I am the most proud of all the steps I've taken in life, knowingly and unknowingly, that have lead me to be surrounded by truly beautiful, inspired people.
Photograph by Sam Deitch/BFA.com