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Without being able to read or write, without papers, to be legal in the United StatesEduardo García, Lalo, worked in the pinch of fruit and vegetables from the age of five. At the age of 17 he was already a chef and managed a station in the restaurant Le bernardinwith three Michelin stars.
But his life was upside down. Lalo met people he should never have known and started selling drugs to the dishwasher. One bad day he became the driver of the car that his cousin and a friend got out of to rob a wine and liquor store.
They managed to escape the police, but Lalo knew that he had done badly and could not live with it. So he decided to surrender to justice.
– Let’s all go to Mexico! You don’t have to go through that, ”his father told him.
– No, dad. I have to take responsibility for what I did, ”replied Lalo.
– Okay, my son. We’ll be with you all the way.
“In a way, it helped me a lot to end the time that you know your family is behind you to wait for you when this nightmare is over,” Chef Eduardo García recalls in an interview for s.
He was charged with a crime and spent a year in a district prison before being taken to a high security prison in South Georgia, where he was detained for three more years. At the end of 2000 he was deported to Mexico.
“There, in prison, I went from child to adult,” he says. At that moment, he realized that it would be the kitchen world that would get him out of the hole and give him a future.
“In the end, this moment of my life is, in a way, a very educational part, which is why I started to structure myself so that I could do something that I didn’t really love at the time, but that was healthy for me and society, and also something my parents and family could be very proud of. “
So he takes care of it I never dreamed of being a cook. “I didn’t choose this profession. he chose me out of necessity. ”
It was not easy to get on. “Loneliness is the hardest part of this whole trip,” he admits. But you also know that this time in prison was a watershed. “It was precisely these moments that taught me how to jump in this life.”
“I had no childhood”
Eduardo García was born in San José de las Pilas in Acámbaro, Guanajuato, a small town where there was no electricity, no drinking water and no schools. He grew up in the fields where he worked from the age of five. He had never studied.
In this forgotten city, he saw his mother’s victims to support his family while his father was looking for work wet.
“My mother was a father and mother. There were times when we didn’t know about my father for months because he didn’t have a job in the US or because he wasn’t paid, so he didn’t send us any money. And I saw my mother how she was doing and she asked the neighbors for money. I saw her cry and wonder, “Will this be my life for the rest of my years?” He remembers and resists the urge to cry.
Lalo’s great admiration for his mother was born there. “The person I admire the most is my mother. Now that I’ve grown up, I understand it. Like a person like her, a mother, a woman, the things that have to happen for you to get to this moment. ”
Eduardo García. Photo: Isaac Alcalá Nácar
When he was 10 years old, his father returned to bring the whole family to the United States. They all crossed the border illegally. “I had seen my father three or four times because he was a bracero. He worked for a contract for six months and returned and left for a week, but there were times when he remained illegal for up to three years,” says “The first time I knew my father well was when he came to Mexico for us and I would be 10 years old.”
Back in the USA, Lalo returned to work in the fields: in the fall he picked oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits in Florida. Then he moved with his whole family to Georgia, where they planted onions. They later went to Michigan to pick apples, blueberries, and plums. They drove on to Pennsylvania, where they collected mushrooms at night. The trip ended in Ohio to collect pickles for pickling.
“I never had a childhood because I always worked as a child. In my whole life I know nothing but work, “he says.
At the age of 14, his family settled in Atlanta, where he found a job washing dishes Georgia cricketon Peachtree Road. But Lalo had a gift: he watched everything and learned quickly. He was promoted when he was six months old and was responsible for preparing the salad bar.
A former colleague of his recommended him to work at Le Bernardin, from chef Eric Ripert. There he quickly rose: he was soon promoted to guard manager, that is to say, head chef for cold meals. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed station manager.
At that time, when he was 17 years old and only working to survive, this bad company and bad decision changed his life and future forever.
“What moves me is hunger”
Lalo spent four years in the shade, between 17 and 21 years. “It’s a loneliness that I don’t want anyone to have. It is a mental loneliness that causes many people to kill themselves. ”
Locked up in this cell, he could only feed on his waiting family and hunger. “”What motivated me most to outdo myself in life is literally hunger. When I was a child, I lived in a very nice environment, but very poor, “he recalls.
With this hunger in mind and heart, chef Eduardo García saw what his future would look like. “When I realized that I had something special in my hands that came from a moment in life when I didn’t have much and had reached the bottom of the well, I started to use that creativity that I knew I had she had already noticed in my hands, but not in a way that said, “I will show society that I can be more than a criminal or more than a person who has no education” but more for my family, to drive it forward and for me. “
After these four years in prison, he was deported to Mexico, where he spent only two weeks. His mother called him to ask him to come back as soon as possible because his father died of cancer.
To do this, he bought false documents and returned to the United States through Nuevo Laredo. He was soon back in restaurants, although he had to be on his resume to do it. The Sedgwick group hired him. He started out as a line chef in a new restaurant called Vinny’s, where he gained the trust of the chef, the owners and their colleagues.
After six months, the partners offered Eduardo to double his salary and become the head chef of Van Gogh, the company’s main restaurant. He spent seven years there without major setbacks until the accident knocked on his door again. Someone reported it as undocumented. He doesn’t know if it was his girlfriend’s mother who hated him as a Mexican or a jealous partner, but the truth is that he returned to prison and was deported back to Mexico.
“The most difficult of all the challenges I have faced was not necessarily to take away my freedom, but the freedom not to be with my family. And I live on until that moment because my family lives in the United States and I don’t have a direct family member here in Mexico. I have my wife I met here. But I think the hardest thing I’ve been living so far is not being close to the people I grew up with, “says Eduardo García.
Despite all the mistakes he made, he’s ashamed of nothing. “It’s just moments in life that you learn from,” he says, adding, “I see my time in prison as part of my life, because if you don’t go crazy.”
He knows that without this life full of crises, pain and sacrifices he would not be where he is today. “In the end, these incidents brought me here today, and that’s why you and I talk to each other today.”
Without his family, without knowing anyone, in a foreign country, Eduardo started again. He wrote in Google: “Best Cook in Mexico”, and what appeared was the name of Enrique Olvera. So he went to ask for a job and got it. He worked as a chef for three years Pujolis considered the best restaurant in Mexico.
The country he found was a big surprise for him. “When I arrived in Mexico, I was surprised at how far we have progressed in many things, but I was also surprised that I came to Mexico as a foreigner to win as a foreigner. I was immediately offered a job. My uncle always said to me: “They’ll pay you 6,000 pesos, but wait … They’ll pay you a maximum of 10,000 pesos, but wait … When I got there, the first offer I had was 32,000 pesos. And he asked everyone and foreign ches were always the highest paid. That impressed me the most. And we have to change that, ”says the entrepreneur, reflecting the situation in the industry.
These three years in Pujol helped him to rediscover his Mexican roots, and there he met his current wife and partner Gabriela López, with whom he founded the restaurant in 2011 Maximo Bistrot, which is now number 28 on S. Pellegrino’s list, the 50 best in Latin America.
“I literally started this business with my wife from scratch,” says Eduardo, who remembers that he started his business with just $ 400.
He and his wife painted the premises, built the cistern and the trenches for the pipes, he says. “That was the mussel. Then it was day after day. I worked from 4 am to 1 or 2 am. I slept for a few hours and then went to Central (de Abasto). Sometimes I came here (after Máximo Bistrot) without bathing and threw a bucket of water in my face, dried off and went to work, and I did that for two and a half years, but I already had the courage to survive, to have no one in Mexico and to progress to have to. ”
Today with 100 employees and three restaurants (maximum, Lalo! and Havre 77) is still feared by his cooks for the high level of rigor he puts into the work he is dedicated to 18 hours or more a day.
“For me it has to do with how my father raised me because he was my teacher. I never went to school. When I saw my father wake up to work at 4 a.m., it was like “Me too, I have to follow in my father’s footsteps,” he explains.
Recognized as the country’s best cook for in 2020 Gastronomic Mexico Guide, Eduardo knows that not everyone can work at their own pace. “I found two years ago that people work better than me. I am crazy and already consider myself a crazy person. I am obsessed with what I do. “
Although it could be assumed based on his history and way of life that he was not interested in the awards, Lalo makes it clear: “I am very happy that they recognize us because in the end they no longer recognize me. You recognize all employees. “
He also believes there is a need to share more stories like his about successful Mexican men and women in Mexico. “We have to promote this kind of example so that people in the country can really believe it.”
One wonders why he works so hard when he is already successful. He is very clear: “I have worked all my life. And you know what? That’s why I survived and came here. And I tell them all: one of the reasons why I continue to work as a job is to continue generating jobs. “
In his vision for the near future, Eduardo plans to retire early for him and his wife, with whom he would live in the country to take care of their health and have a more relaxed pace, as he explains, even though they are so young (less than 40 years old) have spent many years with a busy lifestyle. “Having restaurants is very nice, but it’s also extremely tiring and stressful,” he says.
In this future plan, the chef will blame some of his team’s most talented and hard-working employees for his restaurants, which will become the new owners. “All of the successes are reflected in my team. I can’t be the best cook in Mexico without her, ”he says.
With this vision, Lalo and Gabriela built their restaurants and always thought about leaving a legacy to their team.
“We have dedicated everything to our employees. We are not a company that enriches us. When things go well, all of our employees do it well, ”says the chef.
After living in the United States for 20 years as an illegal immigrant, being in prison twice and living apart from his family, Eduardo has not forgotten to smile and say thank you. For him, the greatest satisfaction is knowing that his mother is very happy and proud of his accomplishments. “My father couldn’t see how successful I was, but my mother lives everything. And it’s a dream for them. “
And he is also very proud to know that a person like him, illiterate, of very humble origin and ex-convict, is now considered a role model for many people. So he smiles and says: “In the end, loneliness had its advantages.”