Written by Jade Ruston
Ana Cortés is a staple figure of inspiration with a go-get attitude that has seen her blossom from her childhood village Jaén in Baños de la Encina, a beautiful countryside village in Andalusia, southern-central Spain, to being the head chef of a hatted modern chinese restaurant Lee Ho Fook in Melbourne Australia, as well as the President of a fantastic community movement called Eat Spanish.
That was quite a big jump in a short space of time. So let’s take a look back in time at what elements it took, to build a woman over the years that is strong to travel, become a teacher, a leader, an inspirational figure all whilst maintaining that ‘good person’ status.
Since day dot, Ana was fortunate enough to be exposed to a life of hard graft, growing up on a small family farm, both creating and experiencing everything from scratch that most of us would have to purchase off a shelf. Ms Cortés told The Jolly Times that her most nostalgic happy feeling dish is berenjenas en vinagre o de Almagro (Pickled eggplants) from her grandma, and that her whole family were incredibly resourceful with their farm, not stopping at food produce, but also making leather items such as reins for the horses, saddles, rider boot protectors, and undoubtedly much much more. Being immersed in this world of craft and flavour, but lacking a rousing teacher in the professional scene, was the simple recipe needed for the strong journey ahead.
Ana so far has had an inconceivable culinary journey, diversifying her skills further than the perimeters of Spain, she dove into British, Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine. When asked about the driving force behind her expansive career choices she said,
“You need tradition for innovation, the roots of cooking is what holds familiarity, but new flavours are so bold and fresh and clear to enjoy if done well.”
The bold clash of flavours dancing and rolling together in harmony throughout Chef Ana Garcia Cortés’s cooking is an experience that we hope doesn’t remain only in your imagination forever. Good gastronomy is provoking and brings people together, such as the community that has adopted Ana as their President. The movement Eat Spanish is rearing full steam ahead in integrating their phenomenal cuisine into the modern Australian. Uniting chefs, sommeliers, the home cook, the dribbling goof looking for some good food porn, “The more the merrier!” are invited from all around the world to explore and enjoy. Ana says, “We showcase different generations of Spanish cuisine, different regions and points in history. If one person has a story about a dish in Spain, another one will have a different story. Not that one is wrong or right, good or bad, just different depending on their history.”
As Eat Spanish grows, we see more people around the world connect over a raw enthusiasm. Ana shared some advice for chefs, but not restricted to, who are just starting out their journey and are struggling to get their skills kick started because of the current restrictions on the industry. The advice is to “keep yourself motivated and study. Study.study. If you can’t find or afford a book, then just try and experiment, even if you are working you should always do this.”
Ana remains a stalwart figure in the kitchen and the community, a compassionate hero when it comes to light that she flew her now 9 year old pug with her around from Spain. Very cute.
This interview was a really good opportunity to absorb a little bit of the mind of one of the most exciting chefs rising in Melbourne. A key not to take away with you is to cross correlate a managerial factor of Ana’s into your day to day life, when conflicts arise, which they are sure to do, don’t meet them with aggression but try to resolve them with the utmost compassion.