We had the good fortune of connecting with Andrea Machuca-Kirkland and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Andrea, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved trying new foods, discovering new places, and spending time in nature. Being exposed to the wonders offered by the world – from the formative days of my youth all the way to present day – provided not only the impetus for the creative career I have today, but continues to drive me to explore the practically limitless boundaries of the industry.

I knew early on that a typical “9-to-5” just wasn’t the right fit for me – but from my first encounter with the culinary world (and cheese in particular), I was smitten – and somehow knew exactly where I was supposed to be.

After a handful of trips to San Francisco that involved everything from interviewing local chefs, to eating at James Beard Awarded restaurants, I was inspired to throw my hat in the ring, and ended up staging (and – when it felt like the right fit – working) at various restaurants, each of which has provided a diverse experience that’s help expand my creative horizons.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?

This one is a bit tough to answer – my story is my own, but shares many common threads with others that have experienced difficulties in the past and present nature of the industry. I’ve worked in a multitude of kitchens, with a multitude of people – which leads to seeing some of the best – and worst – flavors of humanity. I’ve seen the hardest working, most dedicated people working in the dish pit looked down upon by people working on the line, who are in turn looked down upon by those higher in the pecking order. The reality is that far too many kitchens operate that way – where talent and dedication are irrelevant, and really all that matters is your drive to get what you want, regardless of the expense to others. Further, the tragedy is that this is a culture driven from the top down – if the executive chef refuses to tolerate that type of behavior, then it falls to the wind. Unfortunately, there’s far too much tolerance for this behavior out there.

In the last couple of decades, there’s also been an upsetting trend of lionizing ‘celebrity’ chefs. While it’s fair to know that American entertainment media tends to hype the behavior (for example, look at how Gordon Ramsey is portrayed on either side of the pond), the sad truth is that there are far too many chefs out there that want to be the coat-cutting, pan-throwing, sarcastic-and-demeaning next incarnation of Marco Pierre White. And these people will make it known through action that they believe that, if you’re in ‘their’ kitchen, they own you. Anything from repeated, ‘accidental’ invasions of your personal space (and associated incidental contact), to a threatening hand near your face, to shoving you out a door – they find themselves entitled and justified in their actions because the ends justify the means.

I fully and fundamentally disagree with that entire worldview. I believe food is for, and by, everyone – in an absolute sense. When I say that, I mean that it’s not just about enjoying it at the end – food should be accessible for all to conceive, create, execute, and consume. I believe in encouraging behavior – and in pulling down the artifice which would pretend that there’s some elevated, superior version of chef-dom inaccessible to the common person.

All of that experience, and that viewpoint, is a major part of what drives my cooking as not just an action performed by a chef – but an experience for all involved. It may sound cheesy, but if you’ve watched Ratatouille, it’s all about the idea that “anyone can cook”. That’s what lights my heart afire – while I’d love to prepare the best dish you’ve ever eaten, there’s a glow I get from knowing that there will be some who take my dish home not only in their stomachs but also in their minds, then recreate or reinvent my dish in their home kitchen.

All in all – I’d never claim it’s easy. What great thing is? Michaelangelo didn’t craft David because it was easy – he did it because it was beautiful. Almost all art (including the culinary variety) follows the same suit – you don’t do it because it’s easy, you do it because it’s your creation. As my partner says, “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”

Notwithstanding, I do believe we can make moves to create kitchens more accessible – take out the unnecessary obstacles. Less aggression. Less misogyny. Less toxicity. The unfortunate dark side of far too many kitchens that almost any woman could tell you about involves an expectation that you just need to put up with the ‘accidental bumps’ into your personal space, and other ‘incidental’ contact in kitchens, which are all too often written off as the result of working within confined spaces. I’d add, for reference, “hot behind” is not as funny a joke as some chefs think it is.

While there have been hard times, and good times, I’m optimistic – I want to keep pushing for a future with food accessibility and equality. Working in the restaurant industry is not for the faint of heart, having a relentless spirit of hope coupled with persistence helped me stay on course when certain chapters in my career proved difficult.

From Chef’s table dinners to well-balanced cheese and charcuterie boards, at the end of the day, all are rewarding. It’s not always easy to keep a goal in mind, but straightforward persistence, even when you feel that you’d like to throw in the towel, is key in any endeavor – and I’m proud of the I’ve achieved thus far in my career.

Contrary to what some may think, artisan cheese is not trendy. It is traditional. It is forever. Spending time working behind the cheese counter, I learned that. Cutting into a 90-pound wheel of parmesan is like cutting through years of 900 years of history because of where it comes from and how it’s still made today. Cheese is a beautiful thing to share with others, and I love doing just that.

So, if you really love it – then you’ll certainly have your ups-and-downs – but at the end of the day, when you lay your head down, you feel and know that it’s worth it. 

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.

Day 1

Touchdown – LAX. Wouldn’t pretend it’s the best airport – but send our respects to a LaGuardia.

Let’s kick-off day 1.

The first stop is always In-N-Out. Anthony Bourdain had the same opinion. And I know – this can be a divisive topic – but I dare you to disagree with the perfection which is getting that Double-Double, Animal Style, Whole Grilled (make sure to note that’s on top of the typical diced/grilled onion) – and some chopped chilies (if that’s your jam). Wouldn’t disagree that there are superior options (Apple Pan, Yellow Paper, etc.) – but it’s comfort food.

From there, glide south and check into a hotel in downtown Long Beach – cruise the local shops and enjoy it all. The goal is to decompress from the flight – lay down your bags and engage in adventure.

Early dinner – you’re hitting up Beachwood BBQ & Brewing (Beachwood Blendery too!). No wrong options here. There’s a universe of other spots in Long Beach, but those can be reserved for another time.

Enjoy your twilight on a tour on the Queen Mary – a short walk, and a long haunt.

Day 2

Start off your day with some coffee and breakfast eats at Wide Eyes Open Palms. From there, well-rested, you venture further out. The 101, and Pacific Coast Highway, create an unmatched seaside landscape as you pull into your next destination.

One slight turn-off PCH, right near the outlet of Malibu Creek – past the parking lot and corridor – sits Broad Street Oyster Company. It’s the perfect stop for anything you want. I’d recommend a half dozen oysters, two lobster rolls (with caviar added), and the fresh Uni. Snacks are also available if you’re not quite full.

Once you’ve had your fill, then PCH North is your route. You’ll pass along Carpenteria, and will land in Santa Barbara, where you’ll want a lodge along the main drag.

The reason being – you’ll want to be able to walk up to Bibi Ji, for natural wine and innovative Indian cuisine – it’ll blow your mind, so don’t skip it.

Day 3

Start your Santa Barbara morning by hitting up Bree’Osh – they sell out quickly, so line up early.

From there, pop into Muni Wine Shop to pick up provisions for your evening – their varied selection is sure to have something to suit your tastes.

From here, we start heading back to the larger Los Angeles area – but there’s a stop to make. Apiary in Carpenteria – who always has delicious meads, ciders, and kombucha. Grab a few beverages, and leave with a case of your favorites.

Once you’ve had your fill, it’s a shuffle down to West LA – so, step #1 grab the biggest pizza you can from Jon + Vinny’s, step #2 bring it back to your hotel room, step #3 eat the pizza and watch a movie.

Day 4

Wake up in West LA. Take your time getting put together – then head to the BEST farmer’s market in LA – The Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.

Walk, buy, snack, repeat, until the coffee kicks in, and you realize your next destination.

The Apple Pan. I don’t care about your opinion on burgers, because you’re wrong. And Apple Pan is right. End of story.

Hug the foothills from there up to Good Luck Wine Shop – and pick up some amazing bottles of natural wines, unique gifts, and more.

Pop into your Pasadena hotel to get a little glammed up – then head to Agnes for dinner. This place is part cheesery and part restaurant, that has everything from craft cocktails, to an open hearth fire, to a stellar cheese program – Agnes is everything you want and then some.

Day 5
Time to head into the California desert – but everyone needs a good start. Pop into Homestate for some breakfast tacos – then find the onramp to the 10 East.

You’ll pass the windmills, and the Cabazon dinosaurs – but take the turn to Palm Springs, and what you really want to find is the Heyday. If you can leave there only eating one of their burgers, you have the patience of a saint.

Keep driving south on the Palm Springs strip until you hit the curve – this is where hidden treasures sit.

Go just past it, and pull into your lodgings at the Caliente Tropics. Lay your head down for a bit of relaxation – but know that more relaxation is just around the corner.

When you’re ready, saunter back up the street you came, and you’ll see Dead Or Alive Wine Bar – an excellent place to discover new flavors. From there, walk next door to Kreem – with ice cream creations that would please your inner child.

Retire back to the room, and order your ride (when you’re ready) back to the main drag. There’s a trio to enjoy for a big night on the town.

Start with Workshop Kitchen and Bar – more class dishes, but always with a modern twist – and a cocktail menu only rivaled by their sister restaurant, Truss and Twine.

Speaking of which – that’s the next stop. Full disclosure: feel like the tapas/snacks here beat out their companion (just my opinion).

Time for a nightcap (or two) – so you sneak up the street, then dogleg left across the way. There’s a small doorway, the smell of tropical fruit and freshly grated nutmeg in the air.

You’ve found Bootlegger Tiki.

While there’s a lot that could be said about this place, little does justice to the experience. It’s a unique place with unique experiences for every individual. Just make sure you have a ride back to your hotel.

Day 6

If you did Day 5 right, you’re going to need a pick-me-up – so head over to Koffi for an early morning latte.

From there, hop back towards your hotel, but drop in to King’s Highway. Classic diner food, unmatched in quality. Definitely get the banoffee pie – doesn’t matter the time of day.

Not a wrong dish on the menu – just enough to kick start you.

So you grab a towel and head to the pool at the Ace Hotel.

Soak up the relaxation – and get one of their signature drinks, the “Desert Facial” – it really puts that Palm Springs chill in place.

Only a short distance down the road is El Jefe – a Modern Mexican restaurant that doesn’t hold back on flavor.

From queso fundido, to guacamole to micheladas – this is the place to be (especially when you want a cool michelada by the pool).

Back to the hotel, back to some relaxation – but time for dinner. Head back to the main strip – time for Birba.

A lot could be said about the myriad delicious options which are Birba – but for now, all you really need to know is: #1) Chili Oil, #2 )Honey, #3) Proscioustto, #4) Pizza. You’ll just need to trust me on this.

After that – more ice cream at Kreem. Yeah, it’s that good.

Finally, back round the bend to your hotel, the Caliente Tropics – and a nightcap at their Tiki bar, The Reef.

Day 7

To kick off the final day as we move back inland, the morning starts with Townie Bagles – local, artisan, and indescribable.

After moving back towards central Los Angles, we pop in at Grand Central Market – sampling the various cuisines that are offered.

Finally, prior to departure, we trek up Bunker Hill, to Otium, in order to both stand on, and taste, the pinnacle of Los Angeles. Looking out from the heights, we see the sunset – but more than that, the limitless potential – that’s cast upon our city.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
First, my husband, because without him all the years of relentless work, hardships, and new beginnings wouldn’t be possible. He’s my rock, my best friend, and occasional taste tester.

Second, my friends, family, and followers who’ve supported me throughout the years – whether they’ve attended one of my chef-driven dinners, ordered a curated cheese box from Femme +  Forage, or have been there in any other way to show support. From the outside looking in, it may be hard to really grasp just how meaningful every event, every order, and every kind word can be; I hope they know that I genuinely appreciate and love them wholeheartedly. These folks provide a massive drive that inspires me to do what I do – share my love of artisanal cheese, sustainably produced food, and all the other things that go into every plate, box, board, etc. offered by Chef Andrea.

Third, the amazing hard-working people over UCANR Farm in Irvine. The University of California farm in Irvine (@ucsouthcoast) has over 150-acres lush with amazing, unique local produce – citrus, avocados, finger limes, dragon fruit, and apples – just to name a few. Their goals are to invest in research and education in urban agriculture and natural resource use. Over the last three years, I’ve worked in collaboration with community educator specialists at UCANR, Jason Suppes and Tammy Majcherek, to get their expertise on what’s local, seasonal, and (last, but not least), fresh, so that paired dinners, artisan cheese boxes, and anything else put on a plate is not only the best quality, from the best location, at the best time of year – but also to demonstrate the real possibilities of what we could all achieve if we invest back in our community. Without their community-based approach, the products I provide would never really hit the high mark that I aim for. I’m hopeful that, once people see what can really come from a community-based farm, it will inspire others to work locally and create their own delicious plots of land.

Finally, Latinx women like Frida Kahlo and feminist Gloria Steinem speak more closely to me on a personal level – their (and others’) passionate spirits and relentless sticktoitiveness have inspired me to keep up with the fight no matter what obstacle you encounter, be it sexism, tribulation, patriarchy, or any other version of people pushing to keep you down.

Website: www.femmeandforage.com

Instagram: @femmeandforage

Other: @theculinaryunderground (Instagram) https://beemstercheese.us/blog/beemster-chef-series-andrea-machuca-kirkland

Image Credits
– Femme + Forage Brand Photo by https://www.thisiscactuscountry.com/ – Cornish Game Hen Winter Dish Photo by Brian Feinzimer -Custard Pie Photo by Reza Allah-Bakhshi – Pumpkin Veloute Photo by Brian Feinzimer – Self Portrait by Chantel Beam/@minkmarble – The remainder of the photos were shot by me

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