Owner and chef Susan Canastra is a seasoned food professional with more than 15 years’ experience in the restaurant industry. She trained at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, where she graduated with honors. After completing culinary school, she gained hands-on experience in various kitchen positions from prep, pantry station, fryer, grill, sauté, broiler, pizza cookery, seafood preparation, to dessert stations, and restaurant management.
An Interview with the Chef
What drew you into the food profession?
Like most chefs, I was drawn to the food profession out of love of cooking and the simple desire to make people happy. I have always yearned to be a chef who could elicit a full-sensory appreciation of a meal:
- Sight – The presentation of a dish, the visual appeal of the setup, and the formality of being served
- Smell – The aroma of delicious food and the bouquet of the wine, which whet the appetite
- Auditory – The sizzling of a hot plate, clinking of serving ware, and the busy hum of the dining room or restaurant
- Touch – The temperature and textures of various foods
- Taste – Tantalizing flavors—savory, sweet, spicy, succulent—just bursting through the mouth
What are your cultural influences?
Growing up in a large Filipino household provided my first cooking education. Filipinos just love to eat—especially poultry, pork, beef, and all types of seafood. There was always an abundance of food being prepared, and I watched my aunts and uncles whip up several dishes for large gatherings without breaking a sweat. I always admired that ability.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a cook?
My interest in cooking started at a young age, before I even realized it. My earliest recollection was waking up to the aroma of my Papa’s banana fritters—fried and sprinkled with sugar—an awesome memory. I watched my dad cook meal after meal. He was a good cook and everyone loved his dishes. I didn’t realize that I would follow his footsteps later.
Do you have a guiding philosophy of cooking?
I keep it simple but incorporate layers of flavors.
What are some of the qualities that you feel a successful cook/chef/caterer should have?
To be hungry with curiosity, to be passionate with work, and to work hard for the delicious end product
What are your favorite ingredients to work with?
Farinaceous vegetables, fresh herbs, and petite products
Who are your role models?
Julia Child for being a pioneer and a self-starter; Sara Moulton for having a creative groundwork in the culinary arts; Giada De Laurentiis for her modern touch; and Jacques Pépin for sticking with the classics
If you could cook a meal for anyone, who would it be and what would you cook?
Since I never had the opportunity, I would have loved to cook for my dad. Seafood would definitely be on the menu.
Best meal you ever had?
One meal that has left a lasting impression on me was enjoyed in New Orleans at the Commander’s Palace Restaurant. It started with Turtle Soup, and continued with Gumbo, Louisiana Fig Salad, Shrimp and Tasso Henican (stuffed shrimp with ham), Crispy Soft Shell Crab, and finished with Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé. What a feast!