What prompted you to open your cafe and to focus on Venezuelan food in particular?
[I grew up] very close to my two abuelitas: one was a Spanish immigrant and the other was 100% Venezuelan. They both believed that food was the cure for any aches of the body and soul, and at the same time, the perfect gift to celebrate life. There was always food at the table; if someone would show up, we eagerly would find something to please them. If a friend was worried and was going through difficult times, you’d invite them over for an afternoon of coffee, churros and chocolate to find comfort. My husband Alex and I have always dreamed of having a cafe featuring our favorite Venezuelan dishes with a modern approach, and a while back we visualized it in Caracas. However, when I moved to Los Angeles the project started making more sense as a unique opportunity to have a space reminiscent of the place and the flavors that I grew up with.
In 2002, you were crowned first runner-up in the Miss Venezuela pageant, which led to a position as a television newscaster, among other things. How did these past experiences contribute to your current success?
Since I was very young, I’ve had the opportunity to nourish three of my passions: science, communications and food. When I was 17, I got recruited to participate in one of the most influential events of our country: the Miss Venezuela contest. Participating requires a great deal of preparation, which gave me the edge to work later in a newsroom, something that I enjoyed so much. Nowadays, I continue to fulfill that passion as a speaker at different events (TEDxPasadena, Friday Coffee Meetup, Refugee Forum of Los Angeles, among others), telling my story to new entrepreneurs and to inspire others who feel just as I did.
You graduated as a chemical engineer specializing in food science. How does that relate to food?
All cooking processes find their home in chemistry and that invisible interaction that transforms a simple ingredient into a complex product. The “magic” behind it has always fascinated me. I fell in love with it during the years I was attending engineering school in Venezuela. At the time, molecular cuisine was booming among young chefs who took laboratory gear to the kitchen to achieve unthinkable results. When you are a scientist at heart, finding ways to translate what you imagine into reality becomes an obsession channeled by the organized experimentation and recording of trial and error. All of that playing with science [combined] with a business mindset resulted in what Amara Café is today.
What’s next for you in 2020?
In 2020, the menu at Amara’s has more healthy and vegan-friendly options. Some of our arepas—gluten-free Venezuelan corn flatbread—are getting a makeover with fun house-made pickled veggies, spreads and cheeses. My husband, who is a cheese lover, has sourced new delicious local and imported cheeses (including authentic Venezuelan artisan quesos) and we’ve refreshed some of our classic dishes. I’m also on a mission this year to make more people fall in love with the Gran Criollo Blend, my award-winning dark Venezuelan chocolate (the same rich chocolate we serve with churros). My goal is to offer it in many more local cafes, as well as in supermarkets and specialty shops for people to make at home.
What do you like to do on your days off?
I enjoy walking with my baby Barbara and dog on Arroyo Boulevard, then having a sandwich at Fiore Market Café. Also, I’m a big fan of independent cinema and a date night with the hubby would include movies at Laemmle Playhouse 7 with pizza at La Grande Orange Café or a fancy night with a well-made old fashioned at The Tap Room at The Langham (plus they often have great live jazz). Arroyo Chop House is also a favorite, but I save it for special occasions since I can’t restrain from ordering their porterhouse—a real indulgence for meat lovers. And last but not least, the wonderful Pasadena Farmers’ Market is a place to shop for fresh seasonal produce and flowers, try some local eats, and show my baby girl how easy it is to find happiness in the little simplest things.
For a taste of Amara’s menu, visit 55 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena.