Lorena Garcia's test kitchen is festooned with fairy lights for the launch party of her new cookware line.
Walking into the two-story modern house tucked off Biscayne Boulevard, guests are greeted by a bartender with a glass of champagne as servers pass around bite-size portions of Thanksgiving treats. Stuffing, turkey meatballs with cranberry sauce, and cheese puffs are all served on colorful enamel pans from the celebrity chef's new Lorena Bella Kitchen Collection for HSN.
The party, attended by Garcia's friends and business relations, is being filmed for the Shopping Network, presumably to be aired at the premiere on Thursday, November 14, from midnight to 2 a.m. (and again from 10 a.m. to noon, 3 to 5 p.m., and and 9 to 11 p.m.) -- just in time for holiday shopping.
The chef works the room. "Eat, eat. This stuffing is vegetarian. You have to try the butternut squash soup." The videographer stops the petite ball of energy for a quick shot. "Pretend you're cooking," he says. "Pretend? Pretend?" she quips. "I've been cooking for two days preparing for the party."
But Garcia obliges, getting behind her fantasy kitchen to stir the pots. Two local food truck owners -- Giselle Pinto from Sugar Yummy Mama and Alfredo Montero from Mr. Good Stuff -- are assisting Garcia in the kitchen. Apparently, Ms. Garcia is a fan of the two trucks and is mentoring the chefs' careers.
Asked why she hasn't opened a restaurant in Miami that people can get to without purchasing a plane ticket (her Lorena Garcia Cocina is located at Miami International Airport -- past the security checkpoint), Garcia is frank. "It's about time and commitment. If I open a restaurant in Miami, I want to be there. Right now I have four productions; I have the airport restaurants. It's a matter of choice. I also think the right partners are key. I have some offers right now to do a restaurant. Maybe in Chicago, maybe here in Miami. But everything has to be right."
Garcia also speaks animatedly about her upcoming cookware collection, whose price she says starts at under $100 for a basic set. She lifts a pan. "My mother cooked with these large cast-iron pots, sometimes letting the food simmer for an entire day. But they're heavy. You can't pick them up. These are so light." Demonstrating how you can take her casserole dish from the oven to the table to the fridge, Garcia says she wanted to update her mother's cookware for the modern home. "The last thing I want to do is spend hours in the kitchen when I'm at home. And I don't want to have to wash too many dishes either."
Standing beneath a Top Chef Masters trophy belt she displays proudly on her wall, she talks about Charlie Trotter, who recently died suddenly at the age of 54. "One of the things I cherish most is my collection of his books. He was my inspiration to become a chef. It's a very big loss for the culinary industry."
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Trotter was a major supporter of giving back to young chefs -- awarding culinary scholarships and working with Chicago youths to instill a love a cooking in them through his Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation. By mentoring local up-and-coming chefs and guiding their careers, Garcia is keeping his legacy alive.