Luis Contreras Gamboa

I’ve been in the cooking world for nine years now, but I didn’t take it seriously as a career until I was 23. My stepdad and chef at the time encouraged me to pursue cooking. I was scared, having seen people burn out and chefs stressed; I didn’t want that life. But now, I love it so much!

I was inspired by watching my grandma cook for others every day, something new each time. She always cooked for everyone, no matter who they were. There was always food on the table. For me, cooking is a way of showing someone you care and expressing yourself through food. I might not express myself in other ways, but it comes naturally through food.

An opportunity arose to go to San Sebastian, Spain, but it wasn’t the right fit for me—too old-school, even though the connection with local produce and great food was inspiring. Then, I went to London and found well-done food that wasn’t pretentious. However, I didn’t get paid, the jobs provided housing, and I lived off savings. Despite the challenges, I cherish my time there, and it helped me discover the kind of food I wanted to cook—something accessible to most people. Quality produce for our dishes isn’t exclusive to Michelin-starred restaurants. We can prepare them more simply.

After coming back from Europe after COVID, I was a bit lost. I could have returned to Michelin-starred restaurants in San Diego but chose a pizza place for better pay. After a month, I started doing pop-ups and catering. Then, I went to the Hamptons for private cheffing.

Looking to the future, I hope to give more to the community. Growing up in Mexico and San Diego, I saw the difference in school meals between Tijuana and the US. I admire chefs who cook really good food in school cafeterias.

Being at Bica has made me realize anything is possible with a good team! With its small team and caring owners, Bica makes me feel valued.

One thing this industry needs to change is how people get paid. Staging for free for hours and working 16-hour days should not be the norm. Everyone should have a chance to learn, and the industry should be more open to newcomers.

Interviewed & 📸 by @mwatsonnyc reporter in San Diego ✊