When we graduated from Roy H. Mann I.S. 78 in 2002, I highly doubt Luciana or I had any idea we’d be involved with food in any capacity, yet, here we are. Meet the ever so beautiful, 27 year old chef-in-training*, Luciana Lamboy. When she returned to NYC after spending some time in Italy, I got the chance to pick her brain a bit.
#avaeats: So, you and the culinary industry: the who, what, where, when, and why?
Luciana Lamboy: The who: My grandmother—the love of my life—and George, who persuaded me to find a passion and then to pursue said passion.
The what: Thanks to my grandmother, food became an integral part of my childhood. Most of my grandmother’s life was spent in our kitchen cutting, chopping and prepping with me patiently waiting in the background.
The when: When George got me a gift certificate for the “The Brooklyn Kitchen” in Williamsburg. I must admit, the gift certificate went unused for about a year. I finally decided to put it to use and signed up for a knife skills class. I enjoyed the class; but taking a one hour long knife skills class wasn’t going to determine whether or not I had the cojones to work in a real professional kitchen. I then decided to do what any millennial with the internet at their feet and a hashtag symbol in their hands. I used social media as a job finder. With the rising popularity of Instagram and the usage of the hashtags, I typed in #newyorkcitychefs and of course found thousands of hits. I quickly used this to my advantage. I weeded between the people cooking in their homes and the people who were professional chefs and reached out to one particular chef by the name of Alex. Chef Alex appealed to me, not because of where he was working, which I’ll mention later, but mainly because of his enthusiasm and love for the kitchen through his pictures. It was impassioning. Chef Alex, which is what I came to call him, was the sous chef working under Chef Kelvin Hernandez at the budding “La Marina”. La Marina, unbeknownst to me, had become widely popular that very year due to it being mentioned in a song by the rapper Fabolous. “You was in La Marina all summer” became my motto. La Marina was extremely scary for me. It was the first time I had been in a real industrial sized kitchen and there was so much going on. There must have been at least 10-15 people in the kitchen at any given moment not including the dishwasher and the front of the house staff. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was very quiet and besides breaking down an exuberant amount of lobster and other shellfish, I walloped in the sites and sounds of my first industrial kitchen. It was intimidating but I remember saying to myself “You’re actually enjoying this”. There was something about the atmosphere; it was captivating.. The way many people go is through culinary school, and another way is by doing something called a stage.** A stage is an unpaid internship of sorts, when a cook or chef works briefly for free to learn and be exposed to new techniques and a new kitchen. A stage is also a way to have a chef watch your work ethic and to get a job. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was performing my first stage. I suppose I did well because after about a month of working with La Marina, I was approached for work. Regrettable, I did not take the opportunity but made other for myself.
The why: This is the hardest question because I really don’t know why. I won’t lie and say I am one of the people who knew they wanted to cook ever since they were young or that I dreamed of this job since I can remember. Really and truly, I loathed the idea of shopping for groceries let alone actually cooking those groceries, all things a chef should actually enjoy doing. And patience: patience was something of a very foreign nature to me. It wasn’t until I lived on my own that I realized I had a knack for cooking and figured why not pursue something I am actually enthusiastic about waking up every morning to do. And then I enrolled into culinary school.
#ae: What’s your style of cooking? How would you describe your food?
LL: Naturally, because I’ve spent the last six months of my life focused on Italian cuisine one would expect me to say Italian but that .is not the case. My mother and grandmother were both native Jamaicans. I grew up eating very different foods, as well as spices, so it constantly reverberates through my cooking. I love spicy, whereas, Italian cuisine focuses on fresh ingredients. I am also half Latina, and that again brings another style and way of cooking. I would like to define my cooking as simple, but that would be hard. Now, because of the Italian influence, I love to use fresh herbs. I love the idea of cheese being incorporated into almost every dish and the pairing of wines, but my tongue always has that longing for spice so it goes back and forth.
#ae: What’s the most memorable meal you’ve prepared?
LL: Hmm… I really don’t think I can be the judge, but if I had to go off of the reaction of others, it was a baked macaroni and cheese dish that I brought in for my coworkers a few years back.
#ae: What are your favorite cheap eats?
#ae: What’s your guilty pleasure?
LL: I love, love, love lobster and crab legs! Covered in butter and lemon, OMG!
#ae: Who do you admire?
LL: I admire anyone who isn’t afraid to leap. I firmly believe life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
#ae: Who inspires you?
LL: My father who would do anything for me is my daily inspiration. I want to give him back everything he ever gave me times ten thousand.
#ae: If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
LL: Like I mentioned, I wasn’t born to do this. I kind of just thrust myself into it. If it motivates me not only to get out of bed in the morning but to be the best at it I would do it. But to answer the question simply, an artist of some sort—perhaps something in music. I love music, all kinds, from hip hop to bluegrass.
#ae: What’s your culinary dream?
LL: To be someone’s mentor one day: then I’ll know I made it.
#ae: What one dish would you choose if it were your last meal?
LL: My grandmother’s curry goat with white rice, nothing more, nothing less.
#ae: Time for the good stuff, how was Italy?
LL: Freakin’ awesome! Best summer of my life. I won’t lie and say that I didn’t have days where I wanted to come home naturally, but it was the experience of a lifetime.
#ae: How’d you get the opportunity to go? What’d you do? Who’d you work with?
LL: I was sent on scholarship from the James Beard Foundation to study at ICIF, the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners. I studied there for a month, followed by a traveling break where I traveled through a few cities in Italy, then to Spain, France and England. It was during a very crucial time in European history–Brexit had just occurred and the EuroCup was being played. It was an amazing time to be there as well as a very dangerous one. Following the travel, I did my first stage in Sicily. I stayed for a month in my own little swanky apartment in the hills of Siracusa by night, and by day I was working out of a trattoria, Da Andrea, under Chef Andrea Ali. After leaving there, I traveled through a few more Italian cities before finally heading back up to Turin. I then started my second stage at a one Michelin star hotel restaurant, Due Buoi Rossi, where I worked under Chef Andrea Ribaldone.
#ae: How was the local food?
LL: Funny enough, I spent most of the time eating at the restaurants I worked at, due to the fact that part of the staging process is that you’re fed daily and put in housing whilst you return the favor by working. So much of what I had was during “family meal.” Family meal is a very important part of working in restaurant because you are making sure your employees are fed, and in Italy, sitting down and eating is a very important part of the culture. In Sicily, we sat down every evening at about 7:30 and had a beautiful meal accompanied by different wines and beers. And fresh! If I can use one adjective to describe food from Italy, it’s that it’s fresh. There is no such word as organic because everything already is. When I did my traveling, I ate at many restaurants and I was consistently blown away at how different simple things tasted, from strawberries to the beef.
#ae: What was your favorite meal in Italy?
LL: That’s a tough one. My favorite meal, I guess you can say, became the pizza. In Sicily, every other day was pizza day. Being a native New Yorker, where we are known for our disgusting attitudes and our pizza—my level of expectation for others’ pizza was low. But I started to dream about pizza day: I started to think of different toppings and arrangements and how I could make it work. So typical, right.
*Luciana wouldn’t refer to herself as a chef: “I consider myself a chef in training because I was told once that a real chef does not call themselves a chef until they have been in the kitchen at least 5 years and I thoroughly agree.”
**stage is pronounced “stazhje” per Wikipedia. Say it with some stush in your voice: staaahge.