Chef Jessica Tiffany Luevano is a true SoCal gal through and through. From Disneyland's Club 33 and Laguna Beach's Las Brisas to pandemic meal prepping and now The Bourbon Room Hollywood, she has developed a signature style of bright dishes that are both comforting and infused with nutrient-forward, seasonal ingredients.
With a passion for wellness and feeding the soul as well as the body, she’s flourished among the diversity of Southern California’s culinary scenes. We spent some time with Jessica Tiffany for Spiceology’s Periodically Inspired interview series that dives deep into a chef’s delicious creativity. Read the full interview and get to know her below:
When did you first find a love of cooking?
“It was more of a love for the hustle. I made cupcakes in high school to make extra money. People liked them and I made a profit. That’s really what started my interest in baking.
I remember I went to dinner with my family at a nice restaurant and had creme brulee. My godmother Nini said to me, ‘Tiff - you should try to make this.’ I went on to AllRecipes.com and I’d never even heard of a water bath. I tried making it, and I didn’t scramble the eggs on the first try - so far so good. My dad had a regular garage torch, I put the sugar on then bruleed it and it smelled so good. I took one to my godmother and saw how happy she was. I really loved that feeling. I'm Mexican American - we have a lot of parties where we sit around and eat with each other, listen to music or just talk about what has been going on in our lives. I love watching people enjoy what I create and using it to engage with others.
I got more fixated on baking and sought out going to Le Cordon Bleu - I was undecided on college and culinary school just called to me. The Le Cordon Bleu commercial came on in my periphery and I was like - this is it.”
People around you, music, books, travel - where do you find inspiration when you create new dishes?
“I find inspiration mostly from people - in their stories and in the things they share with me. For me food is very intimate - when someone makes you something, they tell you a bit about themselves. They’re sharing their perspective. Inspiration can come from an anecdote they share with me over a dinner table or an experience. It’s storytelling on a plate.
People and places go hand in hand, and I love people's food stories. Their stories make me want to make something new and different; I want to replicate that joy or experience it, too. A collective culture is inspiration.”
What’s your dish ideation and creation process?
“I'm constantly daydreaming about dishes. I use a pen and paper because I’m old school like that and jot down what comes to mind even if at first glance none of it makes sense. I have a big white board in my kitchen; I wanted to be an animator, so I really like to draw everything out. I’ll start to research the culture where ingredients come from and literally draw a picture of how it could be plated.
From first sketch to final dish, first draft to final draft. You change up things during the process as the spark of creation keeps going. Chefs look at a final plate and still think of how it could be better? We keep wanting to create and evolve.”
How do you approach plating a dish? Do you consider plating an art?
“Plating is 110% an art. It's not just about putting food down on it, it’s about how to tell a story on that plate so it's translated to the eyes of your guest. Plating is storytelling. You want fluidity - you want all elements close together so they make sense and there's a purpose. The plating needs to convey a yourstory to the guest.”
Where are places you visit or what are things you do if you’re ever in a creative block?
“I like to be alone. I prefer to be alone when I'm in a block. Most times it's a battle in yourself that you’re trying to figure out, and I don’t want to use people to pull me out of that block. I like to walk my dog or go to the beach. I just go away, maybe just a drive, or start singing; my brain needs to get rid of the other stuff in it and go to jello for a while. It’s like having new eyes afterwards, and if I don't step away - I’ll keep hitting that wall. I need to just go be. And other times it takes my good friends calling me at random to partake in some shenanigans and for me to drop what I’m doing and just have fun! I love my friends for having such great timing at these moments ”
What advice would you give a chef still in culinary school?
“Be true to yourself. It’s okay to make mistakes, just try your hardest not to make the same ones otherwise how are you learning? We fear failure so much in life but if you exhaust all efforts to attain goals and constantly try new possible solutions but, still come up a little short, I don't consider that failure. I call that resilience and that commands respect. I wish I was told that but instead I found it out for myself and I teach that to my little sister. We go into this life with one frame of mind, but it can change and that's ok. Don't worry about other people, but be a team player at the same time. Your kitchen is your family. Find the ability to be transparent and know your strengths and weaknesses before you search for those in others
Try not to make the same mistakes - that’s been my motto from the get go. You feel silly when that happens. But make a new mistake each day.”
How do you experiment with flavor?
“I do meal prepping where I tie in my fine dining experience with health and wellness. I can't just do boring chicken and rice. Everything I create you could plate on a dinner plate - that was my goal. I get to experiment because my clients are all willing to try new things. You really need to know how to use Spiceology blends; they enhance natural flavors. They open up the palate and spark creation. Now as Chef de Cuisine at The Bourbon Room Hollywood I am looking to include more of these blends into our new fall menu.”
What’s a spice you consider under-valued?
“I think it's salt. And we can argue that salt is a seasoning not a spice yes but, I feel rather strongly about what I am about to say. There are a ton of spices to use, but sometimes just salt can be all that you need to enhance something that mother nature has already made perfectly for you. It goes back to knowing how to season. Don't underestimate the power of salt.”
What’s one of your favorite ingredients to cook with and why?
“I like lemon zest. It's really bright and matches me as a person, I like brightness in food. I want it to awaken you. The acidity of the zest can open up a whole new flavor profile.”
What’s your favorite food at Disneyland?
“In the entire park - I absolutely love to get a churro from the cart outside the Haunted Mansion. I don't know why, but it's just better - that's my churro cart. At Club 33, the rarebit was one of my favorite seasonal items to prep and execute. Now the porterhouse was to die for. We made our own house rub for it, grilled for char and then finished in the oven and served it with all the fixings. She was a beauty. You’re making me get hungry and emotional all at once haha (laughs).”
What’s a technique or trick you learned in school or along the way that even home cooks could use?
“Mise en place - that can be applied to everything in life. If you have everything where you need it to be, you're maximizing your time.”
Favorite dish to cook for yourself?
“I am quite the fan of vegetables. I’ve been having a journey with my body and we’ve come to understand the importance of eating our veggies. I can make an entire meal of vegetables and feel satisfied. Sure I like fish and steaks but they don’t have to be on my plate for each meal for me to feel happy and satisfied. I like hearty homestyle meals, but I also like to elevate my flavors.”
Favorite dish to cook for friends and family?
“I like a good roulade. I enjoy using techniques I do not often use for myself on others. That’s when I really have fun. I’ll often make a silky root vegetable puree for a really bright pop of color with seasonal veggies and a sauce if I have time. I like to have brightness on the plate.”
What are your breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurant recs when in Boyle Heights?
Honestly, there are so many places to choose from in LA, PERIOD! I’d have to say that if you don’t mind searching for parking, go to Macheen at Milpagrile on Cesar. I promise you won't be disappointed by the hardy breakfast burrito or tacos. The coffee program by Cafe Cafe is brilliant. For lunch let’s change it up and head up the block to Brooklyn Ave Pizza Co. Enjoy hand-crafted agua frescas and pizza while catching up on sports. Lastly for dinner, Casa Fina, which is located on 1st street by Mariachi Plaza. The large traditional Mexican food plates and decor will have you feeling like you entered into your abuela’s casita.