Direction Through Cooking

Weekly Newsletter
Issue #319

Direction Through Cooking

Aimee Lopez is wrapping up her time at CASA and readying herself to embark on her career as a chef and content creator. We sat down to discuss her life, future career, and the program. 


How’d you originally get interested in the culinary arts? 

It’s been a life-long interest, but I got serious about going to culinary school in early June. I was going through a hard time with personal issues, and was honestly just really lost. I grabbed a littles Staples 5×8 notepad, and used it to write down a list of things that make me happy that aren’t dependent on validation from other people. You know, getting ready, getting a new pair of shoes— but the most sincere thing that kept coming up was my relationship with my mom. My father was pretty emotionally absent during most of my childhood. My mom had three jobs, she emigrated from Mexico, didn’t know a lick of English, and she was raising three kids as a single mom. As busy as she was, she always made time to pick us up from school and to cook for us. For me, cooking has always been a way to connect with her. It’s a symbol of motherly love, a way to show love, no matter what else is going on. After making the list, I started cooking, and I had a breakthrough. It felt like I was healing a bit of my inner child. I want my five year old self to be proud of me, and I decided to enroll in culinary school to make that happen. I want to say to that little girl, “You survive this, and it gets better.”


A lot of chefs I’ve talked to say that they came to cooking to find direction. Why do you think this field attracts so many people who are feeling lost or vulnerable? 

The culinary arts isn’t just about food. It’s way more complex than scrambled eggs. It’s a way to bring the world together. I’ll sit down at an Indian restaurant, and you see how people were raised, how cultures were formed. Climates, migrations, histories. When you really open your eyes, you see it from a different perspective. 


The culinary arts isn’t just about food. It’s way more complex than scrambled eggs. It’s a way to bring the world together.


You mentioned that your mom immigrated from Mexico, which obviously has an outstanding culinary tradition. Do these rich cultural roots inspire the food you make? 

I’m very proud of being Mexican. I’m first generation, and even having grown up in the states, I really credit Mexican culture for who I am. From the clothes to the music to food, it’s beautiful. I want to make sure that I can show my roots through my cooking to everyone. 


How did you discover CASA? 

After I did the little notepad and had the breakthrough, I searched “Cooking Schools In Los Angeles.” I saw a few, but most of them felt like they wouldn’t suit me. They all looked taxing and I wanted a program that felt like it was on my terms. CASA seemed like it could be on my terms. When I talked to the admissions office they laid down that it was flexible and really fit what I was looking for. It was perfect. 


How has the program been for you?

It’s been really good. Going to school has made me fall even deeper in love with cooking. Before I loved the idea of it, but now I see the reality of implementing it into my life. I brought it home and incorporated it into my every day. 


Chef apprentice sprinkles cheese over dish while mentor watches.


Going to school has made me fall even deeper in love with cooking.


Where exactly are you in the program? 

I started my externship a few days ago, it’s definitely difficult. I was warned, but wow. Being a chef is physically taxing!


Sounds like a bit of a baptism by fire haha. Do you think you were prepared? 

I grew up in a fast paced environment. I’ve already grasped a heavy workload. Going into a kitchen is hard, I’m not going to sit here and say, “Oh, it was easy because I was used to it,” but I think I was emotionally prepared because of my life experience. 


Who is your mentor? 

Ismael Gomez! He’s the sous chef of Pez Cantina. He’s so helpful. He’s busy but not mean. He can put his foot down in a professional way. Every question I throw at him, he has an answer. It never feels like I’m being a burden. He genuinely wants to teach you. It feels real. He never makes you feel like you’re wasting his time. 


This is another thing I hear from a lot of chefs and culinary students. Why do you think chefs, in general, are so generous with their knowledge? 

I think the reason chefs are so willing to give advice is because they realize that cooking is more than a task– it’s a form of art. A lot of industries don’t have that. When you love something, you don’t want to exclude other people from it. 


The kitchen can be a pretty male-dominated place. As a woman, are you at all intimidated by that? 

I grew up around a male-dominated field that women in my life worked in. My family owns a trucking company. I was raised by truckers. You don’t see a lot of women truckers. I’m very feminine, but I can put my foot down and say it’s not about how long I got ready, it’s about the work I put in. I bleed the same, I work the same. 


What’s next for you? 

I want to do something that I know I will excel in, and I think for me that is content creation. I’m Gen Z, and my life is in my phone. There’s a lot of hard work there, but it’s a way that I can push my name and my brand further quicker. I want to share authentic Mexican food with the world. Eventually, I would like to raise enough money to invest in a Mexican restaurant. My main goal in life is to open my own Mexican restaurant. 


I worked to not only learn but to excel.


Speaking of, I hear you might become the social media spokesperson for CASA?

They called me to offer that position, and I was jumping up and down. I was like, “God is good!” I was so happy. I’m waiting on further details, but it feels like fate! 



Finally, do you have any advice for anyone who is just starting the program?

I was asked the same question at the beginning, and was like, “Oh, I love it, it’s so flexible.” But as someone who actually went through the program, I’d like to clarify that people shouldn’t confuse flexibility with an ability to take advantage. There’s no one looking over your shoulder, but you still have to do your work. I approached CASA by treating it the way I’d want my future children to approach their education. I worked to not only learn but to excel. Just because there isn’t an authority figure pressuring you, doesn’t mean you can slack off on your work. The flexibility is amazing, if there’s an emergency you have the luxury to step down that day and reschedule without jeopardizing your grade. But appreciating that flexibility should ultimately make you work harder. 

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