Cool Jobs: Executive Chef

Name: Julia López

Age: 34

Roots: Mexican American

Profession: Executive chef of Aló restaurant and corporate chef for La Duni restaurants in Dallas

Salary Range: Average $50,000; Top $125,000

How did you get started?
My first job was at Jack in the Box as a fry cook. Then I worked in hotel kitchens while also attending community college, which is where I earned my degree in culinary arts.

In your industry, would you recommend that Latinas go to college first?
I really suggest that you find out if you want to work in the kitchen first. Being in the food industry is very hard. You don’t get to be with your family on the holidays and there are long hours. A lot of people see the celebrity chefs and they think they can do that. But it’s hard work.

What’s a typical day like for you?
I check that everybody is at work and make sure all the food has arrived. I taste all the food to make sure it’s good and fresh. I talk to people in the dining room to see if I can do things better. I also have to check food and labor costs and inventories. Then I report on everything to my boss. Of course, there’s cooking too. As an executive chef, I cook all the time when I am developing new recipes. But there are times when I’m just doing paperwork.

Is being Latina an advantage?
Even though you see a lot of women in the kitchen, it’s still difficult to gain the same respect that men have. It seems like it takes a little longer. But I’m working for a group of Latinos—husband and wife restaurateurs Dunia and Espartaco Borga—who want to make a difference. We have all been through the same thing, such as learning English. They don’t see my broken English as a limitation. They respect me a lot for what I’ve accomplished.