Diana Dávila is the Chef and Owner of Mi Tocaya Antojería in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. Dávila grew up in kitchens and began working in her parent’s taqueria at 10 years old. She has since worked with some of the most revered chefs in the best restaurants in the country and gained national recognition. She then returned to her Chicago roots and opened Mi Tocaya Antojería, where guests are invited to enjoy Davila’s takes on familiar Mexican favorites; less known regional specialties; and completely new dishes that are inspired by her Mexican heritage. Both Davila and the restaurant have received numerous accolades, including James Beard Semi-Finalist nominations.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
When I was 17 years old and cooking in my parents’ taqueria.
What is your favorite food memory?
As a child, I was visiting La Huasteca and I remember there was some sort of big festivity happening and they made zacahuil, which is a giant textured tamale that gets wrapped in leaves and then smoked in the ground-it is delicious!
When were you trained and how difficult was your training?
I grew up in kitchens and began working in my parents’ taqueria at the age of ten; but professionally, the first job I had was at my family’s upscale dining concept Hacienda Jalapeños. I also studied under Chef Susana Trilling at the Seasons of the Heart culinary school in Oaxaca, Mexico. I then went on to work at one of 2005 Esquire Magazine’s ‘Best New Restaurants’ Butter and cooked under the direction of Ryan Poli. In 2007, I accepted a new opportunity to work alongside Guiseppe Tentori as the fist cook at the Michelin-starred Boka. In 2008, I left Chicago for a bit and spent four years under the wings of well-known restauranteur Jackie Greenbaum in Washington, D.C.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Memories, life experiences, research into Pre-Hispanic culture, and the roots of Mexican cuisine.
What is the most essential item in your kitchen?
What advice would you give to an inspiring chef?
To have patience, it takes time to become a chef and to understand and learn your craft. Never stop learning.
What was your funniest kitchen accident?
I was lighting the pilot light on the stove when we were opening the restaurant and singed my beautiful long eyelashes.
What in the food world do you most admire?
What is your favorite food to cook with?
What food do you think is the most challenging to cook with?
I think it really takes time to master the cooking of all proteins. There are a lot of factors that go into cooking protein successfully; each animal is different and it depends what the desired outcome is. There are different cooking techniques that work best with different cuts of meat and it definitely takes time and training to find that point where something is cooked perfectly.
What do you like to eat when you are home?
Guisados and pasta dishes
What do you love most about your job?
That every day is different.
What would your last meal be if you were on death row?
Anything my mom would make.