Laura Diaz, more famously known as Chef LaLa as a child experienced all the flavorful and social aspects of Latin food culture
Editor's note this is part one of a two part interview.
Have you ever noticed that most successful people are doing something they really enjoy doing?
Henry Ford didn't start manufacturing automobiles lust for the bucks; putting America on wheels was a vision-turned-mission. Walt Disney didn't pursue his dream of Disneyland just to create another amusement park; he wanted children to be able to experience his signature world of animated magic in real life, rather than solely on the large and small screens.
And so it was for Laura Diaz, more famously known as Chef LaLa. As a child, experience with all the flavorful and social aspects of Latin food culture in her parents restaurants would sow the seeds of her future life calling. As those seeds sprouted, then blossomed, Laura quickly gained recognition and stature within a crowded field.
She was not content just to achieve fame as an accomplished chef. She saw an increasingly round American population that needed prompt and sustained attention, especially the children, and developed a plan of action. Her accent on nutritious Latin dining combined with a deep involvement with several health-related and children\ organizations, have created a laudable track record of volunteerism and community outreach.
The following interview is a story of a totally different initial career path being altered by a life-changing event, leading to personal and professional fulfillment as Chef LaLa. It should be evident that she not only enjoys what she does with Latin cooking, she takes pride in her mission to educate people, kids and adults alike, that eating healthy can be just as pleasurable, indeed more so, than the salty, sugary greasy fast-food habit.
Are you from L.A. orginally? Please give us a brief snapshot of your childhood.
I was born and raised in Los Angeles. As a kid I spent every summer in Ensenada, BC Mexico. So I guess you can say I was raised in both L.A. and
Mexico. When I would visit my grandparents in Mexico, my grandfather Manuel, who was a mariachi, would teach me how to sing traditional mariachi songs. One year when I was 5 years old, my parents had a food concession at a state fair. I jumped on stage with the mariachis and started to sing. I freaked my mother out because I was all dirty from playing all day.
Funny, it did not faze her that her 5-year-old was on stage belting "volver, volver." Apparently, I became a crowd favorite and began to sing whenever I could. At 12-years old, I accompanied my sister to an audition for an all-girl group that would open for the pop group sensation Menudo. I was asked to audition and became the final member of the group "Pares y Nones." We recorded an album and I traveled the world for about 4 years.
And this is where it hit me-not everyone who speaks Spanish eats Mexican food! I loved learning about different cultures and the differences in food based on location and climate. When I left the group and high school, I wanted to have a career in medicine, so I studied to be a cardio-pulmonary therapist. I found I was emotionally attached to my patients and even though my grades were great, my heart wasn't.
All the white, my solo singing career was booming. The last concert I did was at the Houston Astrodome for 75,000 with Willie Colon and La Mafia. Several record companies were also courting me. Then I was in a bad car accident. I could not walk for a white and to this day I have a limited range of motion. I was a singer/dancer...and on that day, my life changed. So I reevaluated, and this time I thought about what I wanted to do with my life, not just a career.