2015 Boston Rising Star Chef Cara Chigazola of Oleana

2015 Boston Rising Star Chef Cara Chigazola of Oleana
March 2015

Cara Chigazola’s path to becoming a chef began as a teenager in a pizza kitchen. Born and raised in California, Chigazola had moved across the country by the time she was 17, and found herself working in a pizza shop in New Hampshire. It started as just an ordinary job, but then the pull of the kitchen began to take hold, and the once aspiring artist found herself transitioning her creative passions to food.

Chigazola eventually returned to California, earning a culinary degree in Monterey (as the valedictorian of her class). A slew of professional gigs followed, including Cetrella in Half Moon Bay, The PlumpJack Cafe in San Francisco, and the kitchen of The Dream Hotel in Santa Cruz.

When Chigazola’s husband had the chance to attend graduate school in Boston, the emerging chef was ready and willing to move back East. In New England, Chigazola found herself working a few experimental hours at Ana Sortun’s Oleana, the modern Mediterranean restaurant and Beantown beacon where she eventually found a new home. In 2013, Chigazola became chef de cuisine of Oleana. Her California roots combine effortlessly with the cuisine, influencing how she approaches food. Chigazola spotlights the ingredients of the Northeast, while exploring the traditional flavors of the Middle East and Mediterranean, and crystallizing her voice as a chef.

Interview with Boston Rising Star Cara Chigazola of Oleana

Caroline Hatchett: How did you first get into the industry?
Cara Chigazola:
When I was 17, I got a car and my parents said I had to get a job. I walked into a restaurant, and I asked if they were hiring. They said no, but then the chef said they were. I came back at 5:30 and started as a line cook. I was in New Hampshire. It was hilarious. I worked with a huge guy named Bubba. The sous chef was always coming off heroin. I was very naive. When I started there, I fell in love with it. The place was open until 2am and I worked until 3:30am, then went to school. Back then, it was that sort of Anthony Bourdain world, hardcore drinking and cocaine. I just kept cooking. I’d always loved to cook. My parents were divorced, and my dad cooked grilled mid-rare steak and salads. His mother is from the South, there was always cornbread in the oven. It seemed to fit. I like to create; art was always a big deal for me. But then cooking made more sense because it’s three dimensional. At 22, I said I’m not doing this anymore. I quit for a year. I was in California and wanted to be a naturopathic doctor, but then I started cooking again and eventually attended culinary school.

CH: Who has been your most influential mentor?
When I went to culinary school, I had a teacher. He’d been a cook at Clio, and he taught for just one semester. After school, I was his sous chef at Plumpjack and Seaside Café. He taught me all the basics. How to properly cook an egg, hold a spoon and knife, and finesse.

Ana [Sortun] has taught me how to be a chef, to think about balance and different elements. Remember the technique, but forget everything you’ve ever learned. When I cook, I think of a grandmother in Turkey who’s using her hands to stir the beans. You see how much came out of their hands, not spoons or tweezers. To touch the food and understand every dish that comes out. To think about how I would eat this dish.

CH: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
CC: Knowing people, supporting people. It’s more knowing people. If Cassie does an event, I’m going and helping. As with any industry, the more people you know, the easier it is. Back in San Francisco, everyone is trying to climb to the top. This town is such a perfect size, and everyone understands we’ll all in it together. After 20 years, they’re still going and getting better.

CH: What's your five year plan?
I would like to have my own place or business. I’d like to have kids at some point. I’m struggling between going for a brick and mortar and a food truck. I realized that I don’t like to sit still. I also understand business and what would work in New England. Part of it is, I just want to do it to know that I can do it. Sometimes it would be nice to fail. I wonder what would happen.