Whoever came up with the “Do what you love and you won’t work a single day of your life” quote was definitely a cynic. Let’s go back a little bit into what some may consider a very strong claim (it is not): pursuing a passion is not easy for anyone. It requires study, acquiring knowledge, and most importantly: strength and focus to be able to face the setbacks that come with any path we choose for our lives.
Now add a family to take care of to this already challenging road. It’s basically like trying to hold one bucket filled with ice cold water on top of your head while you’re juggling and riding a mini bicycle. On top of a racing car. Needless to say, for women, it has been historically more difficult to have the resources to actually balance work and family life. And for Latinas? Don’t even get us started.
So, here comes the million dollar question: how do successful women balance their lives between their passion and their children? No, really, we’re actually asking that for ourselves.
While we are still trying to figure it out for ourselves, here at COCINA we decided for this Mother’s Day to highlight 5 (of the many and many) amazing Latina chefs who shine at their careers while being moms. And here’s to many more!
Leonor Espinosa, the incredibly talented Colombian chef:
Leonor has been the first female Colombian chef to be recognized internationally for both her restaurants and the humanitarian work she has done with indigenous communities in order to promote their products, as well as supporting their local enterprises.
This chef has gone above and beyond to retrieve traditional recipes from the Atlantic and Pacific coast of Colombia, which she exhibits in her restaurant called Leo, located in downtown Bogotá.
Leo Restaurante is divided into two different “rooms”: the “Laura Room” (her daughter and partner) and the “Leo Room”, where you can taste different dishes within a previously determined amount of time.
Leonor won Best Restaurants recognitions in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2021, and received her third Michelin star in 2021! Her perseverance, charisma and talent have taken her to the top of Colombian gastronomy and she has become a role model for future generations of chefs.
Laura, her daughter, is a professional sommelier and has her own business. Although Leonor and Laura are partners (and mother and daughter) they never made the formal decision to join forces in the restaurant. These two are very respectful when it comes to working together and inspire each other equally. Leonor and Laura have a great personal relationship, and they are really lucky to share the culinary passion.
Narda Lepes, a groundbreaking Argentine chef:
You probably recognize Narda for her amazing and incessant participation on television. She has starred in many TV shows in Latin America, a career that she carried on for 18 years until she opened her flagship restaurant in Buenos Aires: Narda Comedor, an enterprise she developed while raising her daughter, Leia.
As Narda told in other interviews, Leia grew up among kitchen utensils and gastronomic terminology. From a very young age, she encouraged her daughter to try all kinds of food. This led Leia to be used to enjoying intense flavors, such as the mixture of mussels with cucumber, two ingredients that are not always part of the children’s menu.
Narda’s commitment to offering top quality ingredients add great value to her project. Within this commitment, Narda encourages people to eat healthy. Vegetables and vegan dishes are a staple of her brand. Her great talent and strong personality have helped chef Narda to get her restaurant on the “Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants” list.
Today, Narda Lepes is not only a television reference in Argentina and Latin America, but has also become an influencer on social media, where she constantly posts messages inviting her followers to eat healthy and raising awareness about the scarcity of natural resources that the Earth is going through.
Want to see Chef Narda in action while setting up for her restaurant’s big opening while being an incredible mom? Watch the series we made with her for Narda Comedor!
Elena Reygadas, the current best chef in the world:
This chef mother of two has been recognized as the best chef in the world in April 2023, the same amazing feat she had accomplished in 2014 when she was recognized as the best chef by “Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants”. As you can imagine, she remains in the spotlight of Mexican and Latin American gastronomy.
Elena is one of those chefs that became a gastronomic figure by chance. During her childhood, and as a result of a radical diet change in her family due to her father’s illness, Elena developed a strong interest in cooking and nutrition. However, neither of these two options were initially considered by her as a career.
Behind this coincidence, there’s obviously a woman with great talent and dedication. Going beyond what she sees is part of her identity, a quality that led her to the chef she is today. Her restaurant, Rosetta’s (located in Mexico’s City) is an extension of her personality. The most important thing for this chef is to respect the ingredient.
Elena has two daughters, and you are probably wondering how she manages to balance her life between her career and her family. In an interview with Gastrolab, she said: “My biggest challenge has always been balancing my life between my role as a mother and my profession, which is very demanding. Although I am not permanently with my daughters, I’ve tried to always be there for them. I also want them to see that I work hard because I have a passion, and that it’s important to fight for our dreams. For this reason, I tried to involve them in my activities whenever I can so they would appreciate how difficult it can be to follow your dreams, and that is part of the education that I have given them.”
Pía León, the Peruvian chef with unlimited success:
At just 34 years old, and after being chosen as best chef in Latin America in 2018, Pía received the award for best female chef from “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” 2021.
No one in Pía’s family was a professional chef, but they all loved to cook and eat delicious meals. That’s why Pía got involved in the gastronomic world. Her love for cooking began when she was young, and her star dish was a lemon pie that she used to make for her family.
After graduating as a chef in 2006, she sent her resume to Virgilio Martinez, an award-winning chef, and now her husband and partner. Years later, they opened Central in Miraflores, a restaurant focused on sharing the diversity of Peruvian ecosystems, respecting little-known ingredients.
Not long ago, they closed Central and she opened Kjolle in Lima, named after the Buddleja Coriacea tree that grows at extreme altitudes in Peru. Its proposal is for fine dining and has a cheerful, vibrant and a more informal concept, but always respecting the amazing Peruvian ingredients.
Mother to a son named Cristobal, Pía considers the Best Female Chef in the World award as a recognition for her entire team at Kjolle, as well as an opportunity to set an example and make women more visible in the gastronomy industry.
Pía wants to show all women that it’s not impossible to own her restaurant and be an excellent mother. In an interview for La Nación, Pía shared her experience: “I think I always had a lot of physical and mental resistance. When I was pregnant, I worked until the 8th month. After that it became a challenge, which must happen to all women. It was difficult to combine work with motherhood. It’s beautiful, but catching up to speed was hard for me. Now that Cristóbal is 5, sometimes he asks me to come with me to work. I think it’s really important for our children to see that we are part of this world and that we have fun while we work for our passions”.
Carolina Bazán, a reference in Chilean signature cuisine:
Carolina, best known as “China”, is a recognized chef. Not only has she become one of the referents on Chilean author cuisine, but she has also opened a path in lesbian visibility and homoparental families. The couple already have two children, Iñaki and Mía, and everything they have to overcome to become mothers has been shared on many platforms, becoming a referent and contributing to the normalization of families where there are two mothers.
She was born in Buenos Aires, but grew up traveling and visiting different countries, since her father was a diplomat. Her mother eventually became a caterer, and that was when Carolina took over the family restaurant Ambrosía, located in Santiago de Chile, which has earned a place on the “Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants” list.
In 2017, she and Rosario Onetto, her partner and sommelier, settled in Providencia with a second restaurant that belongs only to them. Ambrosía Bistró is a more youthful and relaxed space than Ambrosía, but with the same gourmet approach. Here, her amazing dishes can be enjoyed at more affordable prices, and since the kitchen is open, you can see the preparation process of Carolina and her team!
The secret of Carolina’s business success? First quality ingredients carefully selected, and a close relationship with suppliers. The outcome? International cuisine with impeccable results.
In their personal kitchen, their children Mía and Iñaki enjoy themselves and Mís helps her moms to make different recipes. It is a natural space for them, just as the kitchen of Carolina’s house was in her childhood.