Nowadays, half the fun in food comes from the thrill of discovery; unearthing real-deal spots that may not be on all the foodie blogs, lauded by Michelin stars, or helmed by celebrity chefs, but that serve up dishes so delicious you can practically smell the love and passion put into them.
Many of these spots don’t even have physical locations, but rather show up at pop-up events or galleries to dish out their delicacies. That’s the case with chef Gabriela Giovana Parra, the brains behind the catering company Eating is For Winners. The Chicago native, who spent a few years in Portland, Oregon, quickly grew bored with the West Coast ultra lean and clean eating lifestyle that consumed her friends and colleagues. It was her frustration combined with her sense of humor that made her coin the term “Eating is for Winners” – meaning, no one should be ashamed of seeking pleasure in food, especially if like Giovana’s, that food is really damn good.
After trying some of her tacos at Chicago’s monthly dance and art show, Cumbiasazo, earlier this month (her mole is out of this world, y’all) I wanted (needed) to know more about how she got her foot in the culinary scene. We caught up with the entrepreneur to get the scoop on
How did you decide to make cooking your career?
A good majority of girls who [I knew] were always watching what they ate–and everyone in Oregon is really thin and have all of these restrictions and it kinda of came from that. It was like oh my God, come on guys, you can enjoy your food in moderation! And I had a blog for a while under that name, where I talked about all of the weird trends in food and then once I moved back to Chicago, I needed something to do and I thought oh I’ll try this out and it kind of stuck.
What’s your signature dish?
I don’t know anymore! There’s a really big range of people I cook for – from family to friends to clients. I would say a year ago, definitely guisado, a pork short rib in a red chile sauce, was the number one thing. But now I rarely make it because it’s so much work. The dish that I make for myself and for my brother and sister is my chicharron salsa verde.
Do you cook the same dishes across the board no matter the event or switch it up depending on the environment you’re catering to?
You definitely have to change for the environment. I do love doing artist receptions, I’ll do fundraisers for musicians, but my main clientele is like Lincoln Park, and that’s very drastic–very North Side, upper class and then South Side artists. I cater to everyone’s needs. I try to find out what the crowd will like the most.
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Lil salad from last nights gig. Charred Octopus, Canelli/Tahini Puree, Green Beans, Roasted Marble Potatoes, Radish Sprouts w/ Parsley , Raw Garlic and Olive Oil. #chicagofood #pilsenfood #chichef #cheflife #pilsenfood #chicagochef #womaninculinary #igerschicago #eatingisforwinners
Who or what inspires your cooking?
I would say the Mexican stuff, which is what I specialize in, comes from how I grew up– with like 8 aunts who all cooked and were all real boss ladies. The majority of my aunts are amazing cooks and they make recipes I can’t find anywhere but their kitchens. So I would say that’s the biggest inspiration. And even when I’m not cooking Mexican food, just that idea of making the most of what you have and trying to make people happy by hitting that soft spot in their stomach/heart…I think that’s the biggest influence to me.
Have you ever encountered any difficulties being not just a female chef, but a Latina chef in the food world?
No, because I always knew I didn’t want to work in a restaurant. The pay for being a personal chef versus the pay of working in a kitchen–there’s a huge difference there. And I always knew I never wanted to work in that environment so I never pushed it. In Portland, I tried cooking for random families who would hire me, but I still didn’t take it very seriously because I was so young. I was like whatever, I’m going to work one day a week and party the rest. When I got back to Chicago I had a huge breakup so here I was restarting my whole life. I started applying for personal chef jobs and have been doing that since. I’ve never been in that [restaurant] environment and I don’t surround myself with people who would even be that way, so I probably don’t have the same experiences as other female chefs do.
What’s next for Eating is for Winners?
The plan right now is to make it more of a formal business. To hire a few more employees and take a step back away from it –because right now it’s just me and my sister, who helps me out a lot. Eventually, I’d also like to do more creative stuff; I’m also a painter and illustrator and my boyfriend and I have this idea for a furniture company. So I want to spend this year building up this business, hiring all female employees, hopefully Hispanic women, and then go from there.
What’s the one thing people should know about you and Eating is for Winners?
I would say the biggest thing behind Eating is for Winners and my personal chef work, is that I don’t believe having a really nice dinner needs to be just for the upper class. I believe in working within every single budget and bringing the same experience to everybody. I literally tell people I will cater for two dollars a head–just give me the chance and we will do this. My high-end catering services allow me to have the freedom to take on gigs or events that aren’t about making money, but more about helping my friends and helping families enjoy a luxurious experience in their home at a low cost. Catering shouldn’t be a luxury that only the 1% enjoy.