I'm just going to say it: The concept behind Kitchen LTO is and has always been ambitious. The idea behind the incubator-within-an-incubator was originally to switch out executive chefs, menus and entire interior designs every quarter, creating an entirely new restaurant for folks to hurry up and love before its time was past. Since its inception, the team has taken that original idea down a couple of notches. The interior designers have become artists, replacing their work twice a year instead of quarterly. And the chosen chefs are replaced less often as well. But the kernel of the idea is still there; keeping chefs and diners on their toes ensures nothing gets stale, ever.
Now there's a new set of finalists — chefs and artists — vying for spots in the kitchen and on the walls of the L-T-O. They are:
You can read more about each of them over on the Kitchen LTO website.
In the meantime, we talked to current Kitchen LTO chef Anastacia Quiñones about what she's learned during her time at Trinity Groves, and what's next.
Tell us a little about your background leading up to your round at LTO.
I was a culinary arts instructor when Casie approached me about competing for LTO. I was very hesitant at first for several reasons. I didn't want to interrupt my family life if I won, and honestly, I didn't think I'd win. I'd been out of the game for almost two years and didn't think anyone would remember me.
What did you do when you found out you'd won?
My mom was in the room when Casie called. As soon as I hung up, she said, "You won didn't you? Well, I hope you know what you're doing." Then I sat down and told my then 2-year-old daughter that mommy was going to be working at night. But I promised I'd always be there to make her breakfast and to tuck her in.
What would you say you've been most proud of in your time here as chef of Kitchen LTO?
I'd have to say my proudest time was juggling it all. Between my family and work, there were definitely challenges but it was fun to see it all fall into place. I couldn't have done this without the support and love from my family.
How has Kitchen LTO evolved (other than the changing appearance, food and chefs) since its opening?
I think LTO has reached a larger audience since its first concept. There is literally nothing else like it and people are starting to notice. That, and I think the staff has really gotten the hang of how to turn the restaurant. It's no easy task, but they really handle it like pros.
What's it like working with Casie Caldwell?
She has the hardest job in the restaurant. It has to be hard to find talent, watch them grow, then watch them leave. She empowers you to be the best you can be. I feel that she has a lot to offer to the chefs. She is a wealth of knowledge. I've learned so much in such a short amount of time.
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What's it like working in Trinity Groves and with the team here?
I knew some of the chefs before working at Trinity Groves so I had an idea of what to expect. I loved that everyone takes care of each other. If Chino runs out of cilantro they knew they could always stop by, and every time I ran out of corn I could do the same.
Give us the scoop: what do you think of the new batch of contestants?
There is a lot of talent in this bunch — I'm excited to see what happens. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself on this stage for all to judge. I took the time to personally get to know each of them and I'm very proud of what they've brought to the table.
What's next for you, and how has that plan changed since the outset of Kitchen LTO 5.0?
Originally, I wanted to continue teaching. But I realized that something fell asleep inside of me while I was teaching. I'll never forget my first weekend at LTO. I didn't think people would come to eat. When people who used to visit me while I was at Alma started showing up, I realized I was doing what I was supposed to be doing: cooking. So, although I can't quite say what's next, I can say it'll involve cooking. Lots of it.
And as far as 6.0 goes, you can vote every day for your favorite chef and designer to win.