Student Stories

Laisa Lopes: Chicago, Chicago, I will show you around

For one year, our student Laisa Lopes will gain experience side by side with the renowned chef Grant Achatz

31/08/2023

In the HRC Alumni section, we present to you Laisa Lopes, who is about to enter her final semester in our Culinary Arts program. Laisa arrived in Bulgaria 18 months ago from Brazil to study the magic of cooking at HRC Culinary Academy. Her first internship was at the Norwegian restaurant Under, a 1-star establishment located 6 meters underwater in the North Atlantic Ocean. Now, Laisa embarks on a new exciting journey – at Alinea restaurant in Chicago. Alinea holds 3 Michelin stars for the 12th consecutive year, has been recognized as the best restaurant in North America by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants ranking, and is hailed as the best in the world by Elite Traveler.”

How many languages do you speak?

I speak three fluent languages. I speak Portuguese, that’s my mother language, Spanish and English, and right now I’m learning French also. And a little bit of Bulgarian. I can buy food, that’s all I can say. 🙃

Where do you come from?

I come from São Paulo, Brazil.

What are you doing in Bulgaria?

I’m studying at HRC Culinary Academy and right now I’m in my third semester and I’m working in Talents restaurant.

What kind of food do you prefer here?

Usually I eat more fresh foods, because I don’t really buy meat or anything. I was actually vegan for three years so when I’m outside of the restaurant, I like to keep that path. I like to buy more vegetables and vegetarian and vegan foods. I really like that.

How does your day start?

My day usually starts very early. Either I come to Talants to work or I go to my job, which is in Ahora with Chef Sevda Dimitrova. So it starts really early and I usually wake up and just go to work because I like to sleep in late, so I just wake up in the time that I have to. 😊

Do you need an energy drink to start your day?

Sometimes, yes. I will not lie, sometimes I do. But I’m not proud of it.

How do you handle the stress of your profession?

Well, I usually like to take everything as light as possible. I know about my work and my responsibilities, but I like to take it in the most fun way I can. I love my job and I love working here in Talents because I’m always with people that I like and I know it’s not that always gonna be like that but I always try to be the person that they will like. Also, you know, be the kind of person that is enjoyable to work with so everything can go smoothly and the pressure is always there but if we treat it like it’s just like any job it’s better.

How do you combine your education in HRC with working in a restaurant?

Actually I take everything as my education. In Ahora I also try to be everywhere, I try to ask everything and learn everything because it’s my paying job, let’s say, yes, but also it’s a place that I learn a lot from. So either here in Talents or in Ahora, I try to take everything as my education. Sometimes when I think “I’m so tired” or “This is a job that I’m so tired of” I remember why I chose this and I just love doing it so I don’t get so tired. 🙃

Do you miss São Paulo?

Yes, a lot!

Sell us Brazilian cuisine!

Brazilian cuisine, just like our people, is a mixture. We have all kinds of different influences – French, Portuguese, Dutch. So we made it all our way and I have to say it’s better than the original. 😊  We have a lot of food dating from the colonizing period and all I can say is that there’s a lot of flavor, there’s a lot of beans and there’s a lot of roots. That’s the base of our culinary.

Why did you chose HRC Culinary Academy?

I chose HRC Culinary Academy because of the program, because while I was doing my research, I really enjoyed that we did one period of theory and then practice, and then theory and practice with Talents, and then practice again. I loved the opportunities of internship, and as I’ve been away from home since I was 18, I wanted to continue traveling. So Bulgaria was an opportunity to come to a place that I’ve never ever imagined in my life that I would come and also to go to other places while I was here.

Do you actually travel a lot?

Last year I was in Norway with the school, I was an internship in Under. Then after that I went to Romania because my best friend that I made here in Bulgaria, she’s Romanian, so I went with her to her hometown. It was incredible! And then I went back to Brazil and then I came back here. And to come to Bulgaria usually you have to do a layover somewhere because there’s no direct flights from São Paulo so I usually take advantage of these layovers and always I stop in a different country and I get out. So it’s really good for me.

Apart from Under, did you go through another internship?

I was in Under and then I was in Ahora. I finished in Ahora and then I continued there because we just clicked – me and the restaurant and me and the chef. So it was Under and Ahora and the next one is Alinea, yes.

Under, Ahora and Alinea in 1 sentence – how come? Restaurants with Michelin stars…

Under has one and Alinea has three, yes.

And Ahora in the middle?

Yes, for sure. If there was a Michelin star in Bulgaria, for sure Ahora will compete for it.

Tell us more about your experience here, in HRC Academy!

What I love the most about here is the different cultures that we have and how they can accommodate all of them. Of course, the Bulgarian language is a big thing because it’s the language of the country, but they always remind everybody to speak English and we always communicate with each other. I really like the separation that they do – this chef is for first semester and this chef instructor for another semester. So that way we can enjoy the most of the chef instructors, that they are also from different places and we can learn a lot and it’s very handy.

What are the other students here your colleagues?

I have very good friendships here that I’m going to take for the rest of my life and from different places, you know, so that’s amazing! Working it the kitchen is not the best place to make friends, you know, because everybody’s so competitive and everybody’s so strict. But if you can find a way in between, for sure you’ll find amazing people like I did here in HRC!

What is your favourite meal?

My favourite meal is the Brazilian version of the Russian stroganoff. We make it very different. We don’t make it with the grain that they make. We make it with our Brazilian rice and chicken and champignon mushrooms. It’s basically chicken with a sauce and a rice and our special potatoes, as I can say. It’s just fried potatoes but they are really small and they look like hay.

And what is your favourite artist?

Last week we had our midterm exam, it was a dinner, it was a team dinner about Pablo Picasso. Me and my friends came up with it – my colleagues, my friends, we came up with it. It was a four course menu with amuse-bouche and we tried to put in some Spanish ingredients and Spanish techniques. We used jamon, we used Licor 43, melon, we used ajo blanco, which is a Spanish sauce, churros, leche frita, so we could include loads of techniques with the ingredients that we could get here, so it was very good!

What is your daily food regime?

I eat very little. I usually eat in my job, but what I could say for people who don’t work in the kitchen is enjoy what you can eat, when you can eat, when you have time to eat. In Brazil, we say that the most important meal is the lunch. And in Brazil we have lunch at 11, 12 and I find it very different here in Europe, the places I’ve been. It’s not really at 11, 12, it’s later or it’s just a snack or they eat while they walk. So for me the most important one is still lunch. If I don’t have breakfast I’m okay but if I go into the kitchen and the afternoon goes on and I know I didn’t have lunch, then I start to feel like I’m at home and my mom would be calling me to say “Did you eat!?”. 🙃

What do you know about Alinea you’re going to?

Alinea was the best restaurant in the United States for a few consecutive years, few years ago and it has Grant Achatz, I don’t know how to pronounce his name, as a chef. They have a few restaurants, it’s a group, so they have Alinea, Next, Aviary and Roister and they provide different teams in each restaurant. So for example Alinea it’s a fine dining, it’s a three Michelin star, it’s a set dinner menu that the chefs either change or not so often. Next – they change the whole theme of the restaurant every six months. And then there’s the bar and the more casual restaurant that they have. And they are in Chicago – that’s what I know for now.

How did they chose you?

Because I worked in Under and I knew I had the qualification of a Michelin star to apply for Alinea. And then I just, I had an interview with the HR and then the chef and he just asked me where did I work and where I work now. And yeah, I guess I just, I was a bit nervous but I still managed to be myself.

So, basically they’ve chosen you because of your education and your internships?

Yes, for sure, because my education brought me places that are very good for my education also. So my education brought me places that they can count and they can see that it’s a very good place.

You’re going to be there for how long?

I’m going to be there for a year and I don’t know what happens when I return. I don’t know if I’m going to come back to Bulgaria or stay in Brazil. I usually, for the past four years, I’ve been just jumping from country to country every six months, so that’s gonna be new for me.

And the internship at Alinea is the end of your education?

That’s the end of my education.

And what was your favourite teacher here?

Oh, that’s very hard because the three chefs, Chef Henri, Chef Viktor and Chef Lyuben, they are absolutely amazing. They’ve always been there for me and helped me whenever I needed so it’s like I don’t know if I can choose.

Was it worth coming here, Laisa?

Yes, for sure it’s worth coming here! I wouldn’t change anything what I’ve been through even if I had to go through a lot of bureaucracy with the documents to come here and to go to other places and to come back again. Because it was totally worth it. I feel like I’m only growing in life with my education and the friends I made here, I know they are for life. So I wouldn’t change anything!

Thank you, Laisa!

I was thinking “Am I talking too much”!?

Laisa is a part of the 2-year Culinary Arts program at HRC Academy.

 

Update November 2023: Follow Laisa’s journey in Chicago and hear her advice on bold life decisions:

see all posts