When Lorena Garcia was maybe six or seven, she decided to make breakfast for her mother in Caracas, Venezuela. She recalls getting flour and corn all over the kitchen as she made arepas with scrambled eggs and cheese. “When my mother woke up, she had a full picnic in the middle of the living room,” says Garcia, the chef behind Chica at the Venetian. “It really has been since I was very little, my passion to nurture and feed my family. I’ve always been very drawn to cooking.”
Later for her mother’s 60th birthday, she wanted to prove she could be a chef by preparing a dinner for 50. Garcia already earned her law degree from Santa Maria University in Caracas and decided to go to culinary school at Johnson & Wales. Keep in mind, Garcia’s mother is Blanca Alida Ibáñez Piña, who married Jaime Lusinchi, a former president of Venezuela. Garcia didn’t live in Palacio de Miraflores since her mother married Lusinchi after they moved to New York City following his presidency.
This year for Mother’s Day, the first Latina woman to open a restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip not only celebrates four years of serving her Latin American dishes at Chica but helps feed moms with her spread.
Usually, when she gets together with her mother, who now lives in Costa Rica, her mother is doing the cooking. “She is very well known for different dishes that I have applied in a different way at the restaurant,” Garcia says. Asada negros arepas, for example, are a variation on her mother’s recipe with house-made anise and piloncillo arepas topped with braised short rib. Her grandmother was known for her tres leches cakes and flan, “these beautiful delicious recipes that have been in my family for decades,” and Garcia implemented her own renditions of the recipes for Chica. “For me, I love to have that connection to the flavors and something that connects me with feeling,” she says.
For Mother’s Day, Chica has a sweet spring peach salad with cherry tomatoes and a Champagne vinaigrette that Garcia calls beautiful and feminine. She says the roasted Peruvian snapper is a lighter dish that represents many of the places she lived in South America with wilted spinach, pickled red onions, and aji-rocoto sauce. For dessert, she’s serving bien me sabe, a coconut cake layered with coconut cream and strawberry hibiscus jam, swirls of coconut, mango, raspberry, and rose petals. Garcia says this is the kind of dessert she would eat in the afternoon. “These dishes, it’s almost like a gift we are giving all the mothers.”
A roving cotton candy cart, Mom-osas made with fresh juices and cava, and bunuelos, Garcia’s fried dough fritters, round out the menu served on May 8 and 9. Garcia will be on hand with cooking demonstrations of her bunuelos with her son around 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Sunday only.
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