We had the good fortune of connecting with Andrea Hirujo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Andrea, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I’m Andrea Hirujo and I’m 29 years old. I’m currently the Sous Chef at Esters Wine Shop & Bar in Santa Monica, where I have the opportunity to not only lead a kitchen and cook, but learn more about running a restaurant business so I can pursue my dreams of opening my own place one day! I’m proud to be a native Angeleno. I was born in Boyle Heights and raised in the Lincoln Heights/Highland Park area. I have generations of family in almost every neighborhood that makes up northeast LA and went to school in the neighboring areas, so I really like to say I grew up in all of them (i.e., Glassell Park, Cypress Park, Montecito Heights, El Sereno).
I was born to young teen parents. My mother became pregnant with me at 17 during her senior year of high school at Benjamin Franklin High School in Highland Park where she met my father. She finished her senior year fully pregnant with me and I attended her graduation at 3 months old with my pops. He had graduated a year prior and was only 21 when I was born. My grandparents lived in Glassell Park for most of my life, up until they lost their home due to the rapid gentrification happening in the area a couple years back, and they, along with my paternal grandmother and family all watched my siblings and I when we were little. My parents still live in my childhood home in Lincoln Heights.
Growing up with young parents has its challenges. Mostly financially, because I mean how many teens and young adults are financially stable and savvy? Let alone, with a baby to watch and care for. Money was never something we had an abundance of, but there was always food and a roof over our heads. My mother made us home cooked meals almost daily, along with working full time so I always watched her making food. That experience was my first in understanding time management, because she was whipping up full dishes for three kids and a partner within thirty minutes to an hour before work. My dad also worked full time and the opposite schedule mostly, so we didn’t get to see him much at night. After I turned 12, I helped watch my siblings at home for the hours in between my parents’ shifts. I didn’t really try cooking very much, but I did know how to make grilled cheese, pasta, eggs, and our favorite dessert—bread with butter and sugar! I could also whip up snacks or we would raid the cereal cabinet.
My maternal grandma Maria Rincon watched us a lot as kids, and that’s where I observed her making mostly traditional Mexican food, but also plates she invented, like my favorite soup Chilayo. She introduced me to lots of weird textures with food, and she opened up my palette at such a young age that I really owe her so much of what I know to this day. She would make us chicken feet to share when I was like 8. Just for the two of us, because my siblings never wanted any. She would make a whole cow tongue for tacos too. She’d broil it and leave it whole to serve. We’d just slice right off it for tacos. Sooooo freaking delicious. Truly. Watching her make food with so much time, care and love put into every dish for us was transformative. Then, to sit at the end of the table and watch us eat, all while asking “do you like it?” or “do you want another plate?” We almost always did. I find myself doing the same when I make new dishes or even family meal at work. I always work in and with love. I’m notorious for bumping my favorite jams and singing while prepping and cooking. It’s my favorite way of focusing and transferring my energy and love into my food. Lead with Love. Always. That’s what my grandma taught me. No matter what happens in my life, and I’ve been through plenty, I always focus on leading with my heart. I especially focus on that when it comes to food.
I never looked at cooking as a career. I mean, I never even saw myself as having a career. I grew up in Northeast Los Angeles during the heavy years of gang violence in my neighborhoods, so my focus was getting to school and back safely. I’ve been followed home and assaulted in my hood, so the goal was always to handle my schooling, get a job and make enough money to get out of the hood. I think that’s the dream for most people who grow up in these environments. I’ve completely changed those goals. I wanna stay in my hood, give back to the streets that raised me and help raise it back up. I wanna make sure that any and all access I gain, I extend to my peers and community. When one of us comes up, we all come up. Period.
I hold so much pride being born and raised in this wild city. Even more so being from the Northeast end. Being an actual local of a city that has changed so drastically and continues to do so, that my goal is to build up my career and business here. I want to give back to my family, community and show everyone who’s moved and built lives here that us locals are just as worthy, if not more, to thrive here. We made this city what it is. We are the ones cultivating the original LA culture and energy. We have been thru the ups and downs of a city with so much history, both scary and beautiful, that taking back the city from gentrifiers and those who actively try to erase us and who made LA, is what drives me. Especially in environments that trigger my imposter syndrome, so that’s what I’m going to do. That’s what my sister and I are going to do. My sister is a budding architect. She’s currently attending UCLA studying for her masters in Architecture, so our goal as sisters is to build up generational wealth within our family and begin the Hirujo-Rincon (mother’s maiden name) legacy. She’s building my first restaurant and our community center. We’re manifesting it and working so hard at it.
My family immigrated here from Mexico and Guatemala, so those foods and culture are everything to me. Those will be the foods I highlight and have on my menu. Those are the closest to me, and I wanna show my grandma and elders that everything they showed me stuck and helped me survive a wild life. That all their sacrifices in coming to a foreign country were not in vain. Their pain, loneliness, fear, resilience and hard work were for me to be able to make it as far as I have with no culinary schooling and just the work ethic they instilled in my parents and I. I do this for my city. I do this for my elders and ancestors.
So that’s how my life and experiences have shaped who I am and who I will continue to be. I’ll never back down, because that’s just not in my blood. My existence in resistance, and I’ll forever resist erasure of what LA truly is and what it is to be Guatemalan and Mexican.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my story. It’s really only beginning and I’m so grateful for it.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m a chef. I did not go to culinary school and learned my way working in kitchens. It was hard, because this industry in and of itself is difficult, but especially as a woman. I overcame these challenges because there isn’t any other job in the world for me. I love food. I love nourishing people and I want to continue in the legacy of great cooks like my grandma and mother. I want people to know that some of us who grew up in harsh environments with little to no hope in creative fields, can make it and will thrive. Especially in a city like Los Angeles.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
North East Los Angeles. I’ll never stop loving my neighborhood. It’s always been beautiful—even when the media wrote articles about it, calling it the ugliest and worst neighborhood in LA. It’s a beautiful place rich in culture, art, community and resistance. I’d take them to all the best views of the city. The best mom ‘n pop bakeries, restaurants and street vendors.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to shoutout my whole family, but also specifically, my maternal grandmother Maria Rincon. My parents Adriana Rincon and Felipe Hirujo. My siblings Miranda Hirujo and Samuel Hirujo. I want to shoutout North East Los Angeles and LA as a whole, because I wouldn’t be half of the resilient femme I am today if it weren’t for this city. I want to shoutout two of my best friends—Vi Nguyen, who is the General Manager here at Esters, where I’m the chef. We worked together in the beginning of my career as line cooks and that’s how we met. If it weren’t for her believing in me and my skills, and advocating for me to work here as a Junior Sous Chef when I started, I wouldn’t be here. I owe her so much. Also, Luna Lotus. She’s my best friend, soul mate and a huge light in my life. Thank you for letting me shoutout my people.
All but the photo of food were taken by me. Photo of myself was taken by Lindsey Huttrer of Rustic Canyon