We had the good fortune of connecting with Lesa & Violette Lewis and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Lesa & Violette, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
Historically there has been very little work life balance within the culinary industry. When you’re a young cook, you are trained with the expectation that you will miss holidays, birthdays, and other special life events with family and friends. The culture has always been that you must do whatever it takes to get the job done and the longer hours/work weeks are worn like a badge of honor. After spending years in this pattern of work hard, sleep less, neglect your family and mental health, we’ve started to see a shift in the culture.

During the pandemic shut downs we got a taste of what it was like to be at home and spend quality time together. It was really eye opening to see how much the burn out culture had taken its toll on us. As we had the time to really process how we had been working and living, the thought became what if we take even a fraction of the time we’ve spent working for others and put that towards a business for ourselves.

It’s been amazing to see how successful we have been in such a short amount of time because of the work life balance we have now.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Food is art and art is food. You eat with your eyes first. As we collaborate on menus we are always thinking ahead to how it will look on the plate. How the colors and flavors blend. What we create goes into your body so we are mindful of how we source and care for our product.

We both have over 15 years in the industry. Lesa attended culinary school at San Diego Culinary Institute and worked in restaurants, catering and corporate dining all over San Diego. Similarly Violette attended culinary school at the Art Institute of California – San Diego and worked in hotels, catering, and corporate dining within San Diego.

We are both naturally gifted when it comes to cooking and plating. Cooking professionally can be difficult in many ways, but we are both very organized and hard working which makes it a lot easier. The biggest challenge we’ve both faced is being a female in a male dominated industry. It’s not always easy walking into a kitchen and not seeing female representation. We would often have to work twice as hard to prove ourselves among our male counter parts in order to earn a small amount of respect. We are still trying to overcome these challenges everyday, but putting your focus on the work and showcasing our talents generally takes care of the people that don’t want to respect you. Also, finding community with other female chefs has been huge. There’s so many talented female chefs out there. Working together, promoting and recognizing one another is helping to change the industry and cool to be a part of.

We continue to learn new lessons everyday, the biggest one has been not every client is for us and we are not for every client. In the beginning we would find ourselves trying to take every lead and ultimately cooking things or doing events that weren’t necessarily in line with the services we provide. Over time we’ve learned it’s okay to say no and the right clients always come along.

We offer a luxury dining experience where we create memorable occasions for the special people in your life. We live to exist where the art of food, wine and culture of the table intersect. We feel so fortunate to have built the strong client relationships that we have over the last two years and look forward to creating more in the future.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Monday – nothing is open because it’s chef’s day off so we will have to pack a picnic and hit the beach, it’s San Diego after all.

Tuesday – still not much open so we will cruise around Balboa park and then hit up los cuatro milpas in Barrio Logan for some delicious tacos, chorizo beans and fresh tortillas.

Wednesday – convoy area, check out Zion market or h-mart maybe eat lunch at one of their food courts. Go to Shanghai saloon for dumplings and chicken wings.

Thursday – our favorite restaurant Callie for a tasting menu and wine pairing

Friday – drinks and apps at wormwood

Saturday – Little Italy farmer’s market, there’s always good music, local produce, and snacks

Sunday – back to the beach, meditation gardens in Encinitas and a quiet dinner a Jeune and Jolie

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Violette – My first culinary instructor in school, Mark Blaauboer. He taught me the basics of being a good chef, not just the cooking part, but integrity. How you present yourself and your kitchen. I can hear him in my ear today, “you’re only as good as your last plate!” It’s really always about doing the best you can with what you have, and that goes for anything in life.

Lesa – I was inspired by my very first Executive Chef outside of culinary school, Stephane Voitzwinkler. He is still currently involved with Mister A’s and Mille Fluers, and continues to be such an inspiration! He saw the potential in me as a young cook, and took me under his wings and guided me through the restaurant culture. He taught me to always present our dishes with finesse and beauty, and always source the best possible ingredients that you can access locally.

Dawn Carvajal has also been an inspiration to both of us, she is the Executive Chef/Owner of The Wild Thyme Co. Seeing how she has successfully been in business for 17 years and is still going strong is empowering. More power to women-led and LGBTQ owned business!

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Website: www.thehandmadechef.com

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Image Credits
Jennifer Dykema Asix Imagery

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