MARÍA LO, THE JOURNEY FROM FATHER'S KITCHEN TO MASTERCHEF
Meet María Lo, a talented Spanish chef who has made a name for herself in the culinary world. Her love for cooking began at a young age, inspired by her father, who taught her to appreciate good quality ingredients and the art of cooking. María's passion for cooking has led her to become a winner of Masterchef Spain, which opened up many opportunities for her. In this interview, María shares her culinary philosophy, challenges she has faced as a female chef and advice for aspiring chefs.
What inspired you to pursue a career in cooking, and when did you first realize your passion for it?
My love for cooking started when I was very young. I remember my father, who was the one who usually cooked at home, being very organized in the kitchen. He taught me to appreciate good quality ingredients (he knew a lot about them). My passion for cooking comes entirely from him, as he expressed his love through cooking and gave me the opportunity to taste the best parts of fish, meat, etc., and always explained the reasons behind things.
How did winning Masterchef Spain impact your career, and what opportunities did it open up for you?
Winning Masterchef Spain completely changed my life. Although I always wanted to dedicate myself to cooking because it was my passion, I never took the step because I decided to study something else that was more than "just being a cook" (my father wanted me to study something like law, engineering, medicine, etc.). Winning Masterchef made it possible for me to dedicate myself to what I love the most, which is cooking. I was able to study at the best culinary school, the Basque Culinary Center, and I created a gastronomic content profile on Instagram that is well-received and works phenomenally. In 2024, I will release a recipe book and have some other projects in mind that will gradually come to fruition.
What sets your cooking style apart from others, and how would you describe your culinary philosophy?
For me, the quality of the ingredients and applying the appropriate cooking methods for each product is very important. Respect for the ingredients is fundamental. I make traditional cuisine with a personal touch. Classic recipes, but with a twist. Also, I like to have everything in a recipe cooked "from scratch." That is, if I am going to make a taco or a brioche filled with something, I make the taco or brioche myself. I don't like buying ready-made items when I can make them myself.
Could you share with us one of your signature dishes and the inspiration behind it?
Although it is one of the most typical Spanish dishes, I love making tortilla de patatas (potato omelet). It seems simple, with only three ingredients (egg, potato, onion), but like all apparently simple dishes, it requires technique and perfect timing. Another one of my favorite dishes is meatballs in red wine and caramelized onion sauce, as well as tortillitas de camarones (shrimp fritters), a typical dish from Cadiz, where I come from.
How do you approach developing new recipes, and what is your creative process like?
I love discovering very traditional dishes from different places, learning to make them in the purest way, and then adding my own touch, either by adding some complementary elements or creating a new dish based on that traditional base. I think it is beautiful to leave flavors that evoke and remember tradition but that at the same time have a different touch that surprises.
What challenges have you faced as a female chef in a male-dominated industry, and how have you overcome them?
I have been dedicated to the hospitality industry all my life, in fact, I studied hotel management and specialized in F&B and banquets. I was the operations manager for events for several years, and of course, I was the link between the kitchen (usually led by men) and the dining room, which I managed. There has always been a particular situation when working with men. Many times I had to pretend to know less than them to give them the confidence that they were in charge (yes, a bit sad), but sometimes it was the only way to ensure that the event went smoothly and I could do my job well. Women in professions generally dominated by men have always had to have their tools to be able to do their job well. Fortunately, this is something that is changing, but there is still a long way to go.
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs, especially women, who want to make a name for themselves in the culinary world?
I think it's super important to be true to ourselves. Believe in ourselves, in what we can contribute in a unique and personal way. I also think that women have very good instincts, and in my case, I have learned that whenever our instincts send us signals, we have to listen to them.
How important is it for you to use local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients in your cooking, and what is your philosophy on food sourcing?
It is essential for me to use local ingredients. I believe that chefs have a very important responsibility, which is to care for the environment and nature and respect the timing of each food. On the one hand, it values the seasonal products of each place, and on the other hand, the same products consumed in the right season are much more tasty and flavorful, which makes the dishes full of flavor.
What are your plans for the future, both in terms of your career and your personal life
My idea has always been to open a restaurant and return to the place where I was born, Chiclana de la Frontera (Cádiz-Andalusia). This is a longer-term project, but I always have it as a goal.
What is your ultimate goal as a chef, and what legacy do you hope to leave behind through your culinary work?
My main goal with the recipes I share is for people who are not cooks to know where things come from, good raw materials, how to cook traditionally, and understand that cooking at home can be simple, delicious, and tasty.
Would you like to share your culinary adventures or experiences with us? Please, let us know.