I feel blessed to know the featured chef in this Decisive Latino article. She is none other than the 5-foot, “spit-fire” gourmand and East L.A. gal, Chef LaLa. I think I’m lucky even to be a member of the inner sanctum, and a close enough friend to address her by her nickname, “LaLa” (which is short for Laura Diaz).
It was no easy fêtes getting this girl to slow down enough for an interview via her home in Los Angeles, Calif. Chef LaLa is best known as the queen of healthy lifestyles and her work with the National Diabetes Association. She is certified in nutrition and lifestyle management.
A third-generation restaurateur and daughter of Mexican immigrants, LaLa grew up in the kitchens of her family’s California-based eateries and inherited her father’s talents at the stove. Before following in his footsteps, she briefly studied to become a cardio-pulmonary therapist, but quickly realized it wasn’t the right career for her.
Still, LaLa’s interest in health was never far from her mind, even as she enrolled in the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu and went on to found her own catering company, SAVOR!, serving A-list celebrities, as well as VIPs in entertainment and politics, including two U.S. presidents and a president of Mexico, Vicente Fox.
Two forces in LaLa’s life profoundly influenced her thoughts about food and her career. One was her constant battle with her weight. The other was her family’s history of diabetes, the complications of which claimed the lives of both of her grandmothers and one of her grandfathers. Looking for ways to make cuisine more healthful, she has continually taken courses to improve her nutritional knowledge, and is a certified specialist in fitness nutrition, kids’ nutrition and lifestyle and weight management.
The idea that any ethnic cuisine–or any cuisine, really–can be good for you and still retain its sabor, or flavor, has become her mantra and her practice as a celebrity chef, author and spokeswoman for organizations.
“People pay better attention to the gas they put into their cars than the foods they put into their bodies,”she says. “In the meantime, heart disease, which is largely preventable, remains the No. 1 killer in America. If that’s not enough to scare anyone straight, I don’t know what is.”
As a serious car buff and crackerjack mechanic, LaLa frequently uses automobiles as an analogy for the human body. She’s a self-professed lipstick tomboy who can maneuver a torque wrench as easily as a paring knife.
Being a working mom, LaLa has encountered a whole new set of challenges and pleasures in her life. Like many new mothers, she struggled to take off the baby weight, and has realized the importance of slowing down, as she says, “to smell the roses, or the steak or the top of my baby’s head.”
Yet she remains tireless in her public efforts to promote healthful foods that are anything but bland. LaLa knows the challenges women face. As a result, she is able to motivate and inspire her audience in a personal manner to accept their bodies and try their best to live a healthy life every day.
Lala recently received the Macy’s Community Star award, as well as General Mills’ “Corazón de Comunidad” (literally, “Heart of the Community”) award. And California’s First Lady Maria Shriver inducted her into the state’s Museum for History, Women and the Arts.
The one constant through it all, Lala says, has been her family: her two sisters, Myrna and Veronica; her brother, Danny; and her parents, Luis and Raquel, who have been married for more than 40 years.
“They’ve always been cheering me on no matter what,” she says. “I wish someday to be half the chef that my father is.”
When asked whether she hasn’t already surpassed him, she arches an eyebrow, and a gleam appears in her eye that generally precedes her frequent quips. “Obviously, you haven’t tried his carnitas.”
Whether she’s teaching nutritious cooking at a farmer’s market or on a television show, LaLa is on fire with her desire to share everything she has learned to make people’s lives healthier and happier one meal at a time.
With this Latina’s background, I knew she was the perfect chef to speak with and ask for information to use during San Antonio’s FIESTA 2011. I asked LaLa to help my fellow San Antonians (and Texans) by letting us know how we can celebrate and party the healthy way. She was most gracious in sharing with me how to enjoy a fiesta the “lite” way, and how a diabetic can party down with the rest of us.
To read the questions I asked LaLa, along with her responses, please log on to www.CookwithMichael.com. There you will also find recipes LaLa wants to share with you, the reader.