I have had the fortune of having a long working relationship with Otium and Chef Tim Hollingsworth. But not until recently did I have the chance to sit down with Otium’s head pastry chef Allison Osorio. We met up between lunch and dinner service on a winter day before Christmas. What struck me most was her drive and determination. Below is an excerpt from our conversation.
Where did you grow up?
“My family is from Sinaloa Mexico but I grew up in Compton”.
What are your earliest memories of cooking?
“So my mom didn’t actually cook all that much. She was a single mom, constantly working and we ate a lot of fast-food and TV dinners. So I started cooking out of necessity and curiosity at first. Then I started cooking a lot as a way of distraction and amusement. I was stressed out from my corporate job and cooking was a sense of relief”
Tell us about your culinary path?
“This is my second career. I went the traditional route of study, go to college and get an office job because my parents really wanted me to accomplish the “American Dream”, whatever that meant. So after college, I was doing marketing and PR in the food industry for a lot of top food brands, and my curiosity led me to wonder what it would be like to be a professional chef. I was cooking a lot and becoming really passionate about food, so much so that I ended up quitting my job because I didn’t want to be complacent and really wanted to explore more of who I REALLY wanted to be. I applied to pastry school in Paris, because why was I gonna quit and go to school across the street in Long Beach, I was gonna go balls to the wall or nothing at all. So I packed my bags and left.
This was extremely hard. The hardest thing I’ve ever done probably. I didn’t speak the language, I had no money and was basically starting my life over. My parents didn’t approve, which in turn made me very determined to make it. And I have to say I’ve never looked back! After pastry school I got a job at Pierre Herme which to me was the ultimate. He was and still is my favorite pastry chef of all time. I learned so much there.
After coming back to Los Angeles how did you end up at Otium?
“When I left Paris, I came back to LA and I ONLY wanted to work for Thomas Keller. But when I came back I had no job, I had no money and no one was calling me back from TKRG. Literally my parents were like “I told you. Now what?” Finally I got a call from Bouchon in Beverly Hills. I was there for almost two years and that’s where I met Chef Tim and the great community of culinary rockstars. After Bouchon I worked around the city at different bakeries/restaurants just trying to figure out what really appealed to me and what route I wanted to take.
When I heard about the Otium project, I was so terrified to apply. I had a huge admiration for Chef Tim and his work. I ended up applying because my friend really pushed me to do it, but I did it with no anticipation that I would actually get the job. Three and a half years later, it’s been the best journey for me and I feel like I grew up here. This restaurant is definitely my baby.
With regards of the term “female chef” does that have an affect on you?
“It doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t trigger a negative connotation. I feel more empowered as a female and I’m proud of it. I will never dismiss or underplay that I AM a woman. Men are men and women are women, that’s just how it is. I embrace it. It’s a hard job, you are constantly surrounded by men, constantly being challenge, compared, attacked, offended etc…. So to rise above that as a women, more praise to you for being an example to others.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
“It’s tough to say. Sometimes I see something in my head first, I see the shapes and the colors and then I apply that to food. Other times I taste flavors first and then figure out how I can create something in the physical form. Inspiration comes from places I’ve traveled, things I’ve eaten, my childhood, taxi rides…. Everywhere really.
If you weren’t a chef what would you be doing?
“I would love to be a florist, or a professional salsa dancer or maybe a pastor…. but in all honesty I love what I am doing and I can see myself cooking til I’m 80.
What would your last dish be?
“A giant banana split!”