NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - At Coquette on Magazine street guests find a welcoming retreat from the typical fine dining cuisine with menus crated with deliberate intention, featuring local ingredients, and a team of chefs who recognize flavors delivering a mouthwatering experience. So, it makes sense that sous-chef Ana Castro is getting national recognition from the James Beard Foundation as a finalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year.
After missing several calls from her boss, the day after her birthday, she finally was able to get the message, initially fearful she was getting a call on her day off because she might have left something on in the kitchen at the restaurant.
“She was like you're nominated for a James Beard award! I was like, ‘What? Me? How?’ I'm still in shock!” Castro said.
If you spend a few minutes with Castro, you’ll understand why she’s a finalist, equipped with a magnetic personality and a passion for food, her love affair with flavors were deeply rooted during her childhood.
“My dad said, ‘I always knew you were gonna be a chef, even before you knew it, I knew it.’ Apparently, everybody knew it,” Castro said.
Her father was often away on business, so Castro was raised by her grandparents in Mexico City.
Her grandmother was an expert in the kitchen, but never cut her any slack.
“She was a rough woman when I was growing up, but anytime she cooked, that's exactly where she showed how much love she had for everybody or just a way to comfort somebody. That was it, and I was like, ‘Wow!’ My grandmother, if I ask her for anything, she would say no, but if I tell her I'm hungry she'll do this incredible thing you know,” Castro said.
That’s exactly how here affinity for cooking blossomed as she learned a language of love is often spoke through our infatuation with food.
“I started cooking and I went to culinary school and I had a few jobs at cafes and what not in Mexico City and then that's when I moved to India and I was just working as the assistant to a chef,” Castro said.
After spending several months in India, she moved to Europe, where she worked on farms, then hopped across the pond, making a splash in New York, before eventually finding her way to Coquette.
In a kitchen where collaboration is King, Castro quickly learned every dish at Coquette is crafted with purpose.
“Everything on the menu, from a glass of wine, a cocktail, a dessert, everything has been thoughtfully put there for a reason. We've all tried it and we've all tasted it and we've all made a conscious decision that it is amazing,” Castro said.
As a sous-chef, she’s joined a team where her leadership shines, bolstered by fellow James Beard finalist, Chefs Michael Stoltzfus and Kristen Essig, Castro has a clear path, cooking with integrity and making an impact in her field for years to come.
“When I was young I felt like one day I'll have a restaurant, one day I'll have a team and I'll be a leader of a team and it was this kind of Cinderella deal and we would all believe in each other and it would be great. Now it's so much more than that and yes it includes all those things that are great, but it also is like how can I help my community, how can I grow the industry, how can I make the industry a better, safer place for everybody,” Castro said.
From humble roots, where food was always an expression of affection, her love for cooking is just the beginning of a devotion to a city that covets its cravings and revel in the people who are mastering that culinary voice.
“There are thousands and thousands of cooks in the city and they’re all amazing and if I win this is for everybody. If I win, I’m gonna be like, yep, this is for New Orleans,” Castro said.