Jessica Sanchez on Loba's Second Anniversary, Online Stardom, and Cooking at Google

June will mark Loba's second anniversary, and the intimate MiMo eatery has a lot to celebrate. For starters, chef-owner Jessica Sanchez has become somewhat of an Internet celebrity, spending the last eight months traveling throughout the US to host a 10-part web series for Zagat called Foodways. Sanchez helped create the show which examines America's history and culture by exploring the 10 meals that define us as a nation. 

The former financial analyst had zero media aspirations and says no one was more surprised than she when she was approached about the gig.

It all started back in 2014 when Zagat decided to include the young toque in their annual 30 under 30 list, which shines a light on Miami's brightest names in the food and beverage industry. As part of the feature, camera crews came to film Sanchez in action for their YouTube channel. At the time, her mother, Libia E. Sanchez, was helping her run the kitchen, and the five minute film ended up focusing on their unique mother-daughter relationship. That YouTube video went on to generate close to 900,000 views, and Zagat saw a budding star in Sanchez. 

"I think the first video got so many views because my mom cried in it. At one point I said, I think you have the wrong character and I think you should contact my mom because the viewers love her and not me," says Sanchez. 

The web series had Sanchez traveling to places like South Carolina, Maine and Hawaii, and she says she came back from the experience inspired to improve Loba. She acquired many new recipes and techniques and has been hard at work tweaking the restaurant's Latin and Southern inspired comfort food menu. For example, Sanchez has added truffle honey to the popular "Vincent Van Goat" fried goat cheese balls, and has upgraded the octopus appetizer to include an olive tapenade. She's also adamant about continuously offering new and exciting vegetarian dishes to customers, and wants to focus more on building relationships with local farmers. 

Loba's weekend brunch has been a hit says Sanchez, and that menu's also getting some updates. One new dish is called "The Roots" and is comprised of vegetable hash, farro, poached or fried egg, belgian endive and jicama salad, avocado, cilantro dressing, and garlic croutons. And if Sanchez weren't already busy enough —- she will soon be introducing a grab-n-go style lunch menu with healthy and affordable options.

Sanchez recently celebrated her 30th birthday and says she's extremely grateful for all the opportunities that have come her way and is excited for the future. That includes being invited to be a guest chef at New York's Google headquarters next month (Google owns Zagat), as well as the likelihood of creating/hosting a second 10-part web series for Zagat centered on Latin America's 10 defining meals.  

Sanchez's family is from Columbia, and she says she's eager to delve deeper into the history of her ancestors. Growing up, Sanchez spent a lot of time at her parents' small Colombian restaurant chain, Patacón, and credits her mother for instilling in her a love for all things food related. Libia E. Sanchez is no longer on the line at Loba, but the "sauce queen" refuses to give up her recipes and is thus still tasked with making most of the restaurant's beloved sauces. 

Since Loba opened nearly two years ago, it has been joined by popular eateries such as the Vagabond Restaurant and Bar and Ms. Cheezious. "I believe restaurants with love in their concept can really help strengthen a neighborhood," says Sanchez who is proud to play a part in the area's positive growth.  

One more thing on Sanchez' long list of things to celebrate is Loba's Instagram account, which happens to be one of Miami's best restaurant accounts. Turns out, Sanchez's best friend Sophia Costabal is the gal behind all the hilarious, interactive and witty posts. A favorite is a photo of raw cookie dough with the caption "day one of my raw food diet." 

Loba translates to  "she wolf" in Spanish, and Sanchez says she selected the animal to represent the restaurant because a wolf knows no fear. Apparently, neither does Ms. Sanchez. 

Follow Valeria Nekhim Lease on Twitter and Instagram 

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