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Chef Yia Medina on Lessons Learned From Hurricanes, Earthquakes and Cleaned-Out Grocery Stores

Chef Yia Medina knows how to strum along through the storm.
Chef Yia Medina knows how to strum along through the storm.
courtesy Yia Medina

Jasper’s Uptown chef Yia Medina knows a thing or two about panic, disaster and recovery. 

She grew up in Puerto Rico, and every time a hurricane warning arose, stores would essentially be wiped out. 

“The shelves at Costco and Sam’s would be empty, because we only had so many resources on hand at that moment,” Medina says. “As an island, we had to rely on cargo ships and planes to get supplies, so people would sort of panic." 

In 2017, while the devastating Category 5 Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, Medina hunkered down with her parents and kids in their apartment. For two months following, life was basically at a standstill as she and her family, along with the rest of the country, crawled to a recovery. 

It wasn’t all bad. She now cherishes the memory of those times. 

“The kids had no other choice but to just be out of the house because there was no electricity, so they played outside all the time,” Medina says. “And we just spent time together. It was kind of like a blessing in disguise because under ... normal circumstances, it’s hard to make the time to be with family. But, for two months I sat on my parents' balcony, watched my kids play outside or played board games with them.” 

Eventually, Medina was able to evacuate her kids to Texas. She followed shortly after securing a job at Fearing’s at the Ritz-Carlton in Dallas.  

Then, in December 2019 when a series of earthquakes destroyed parts of Puerto Rico, Medina went back, this time as a volunteer with World Central Kitchen. The organization served around 12,000 meals a day to the local community, where thousands slept outside for fear of aftershocks.

Now in Dallas, as she and the rest of the world navigate these uncharted waters around the coronavirus, Medina understands the frustration and confusion that accompany it. 

“You don't understand things, it’s frustrating,” Medina remembers of the time shortly after Hurricane Maria. “I slept in my car for days just in a line to put gas in it. And you don't understand why it's happening. You get angry and you lose your patience. It’s very frustrating.” 

But, Medina doesn’t have a negative mindset. 

“You know, on the other side of it, I think that people, when they look back, are just going to appreciate all the things that they got to do during this lockdown,” Medina says. “For me, the time after the hurricane was the most precious time with my kids.” 

Because when all the smoke clears, we’ll eventually be back to our busy lives, pedal to metal, attending to all the things that suck up so much of our time and energy. 

“I know it sounds really cliché to say things like, 'This too shall pass,' because we use it so casually, but history has taught us that this will pass, and we’ll go on. But, we will learn from it and make adjustments.”

Like maybe to slow down more often.

Chef Medina and her staff at Jasper's Uptown have adjusted, like many other restaurants, to a contactless to-go menu. She also has posted a "Spaghetti 3 Ways, Quarantine Survival Recipes" to her Instagram account if you need some help jazzing up your meals. 

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