Mónika Domínguez

My name is Mónika Domínguez. I’m from La Habana, Cuba; I arrived in the USA 7 years ago by crossing the border from Mexico. It was a unique experience. I stayed with family in Mexico before flying to Monterrey, where a coyote took me to the border with my brother. We were held at the border in a cold cell without any food, water, or communication. My family knew nothing about us for three days until we were released.

Immigration laws at the time allowed Cuban immigrants to become residents. Even though I was able to become a legal resident in this country, adapting to a new language and culture wasn’t nearly as easy. Basically, I had to start from zero.

Back in Cuba, I didn’t cook professionally, but the influence was always there from my grandparents. I always said my grandpa was a Chef, not professionally, but from the heart. At family gatherings, he would cook over charcoal the traditional plates from Cuba. He was my biggest influence.

I studied Culinary in Miami, and after graduating, I started working in restaurants with strong Asian techniques. Later, I worked as Executive Chef at a cool Cuban dinner. There I was able to finally combine the love of Cuban food with all I had learned thus far. My newest project, Dale street food, was born from that experience. It’s been difficult because not everyone understands Dale. Many people say it’s not traditional Cuban food; it’s not traditional Asian food. It’s a mix of both. It’s unique. No one is doing that right now and what I want most is to expand it. Cuban food isn’t only rice and beans. It can be more.

Being a woman in this industry involves a lot, to say the least. I remember one particular experience when I opened one restaurant in Mexico as Head Chef. People didn’t take me seriously. They would always enter the restaurant and ask for “el Chef,” assuming a male chef. When I would answer I was “la Chef,” they would quickly respond: “No, the man in charge.” They simply couldn’t wrap their minds around a woman being the boss. As a woman in the kitchen, you must reinforce your position and stay strong. It isn’t easy.