A native of Lima, Chef Antoanet “Toni” Aburto veganizes the cuisine of her home with her Chica Vegan pop-ups. She moved to the United States when she was 19 and has been working in the hospitality industry in various forms ever since! When she isn’t cooking, Toni donates her time to causes near to her heart, like animal rights, homelessness, mental health, women of color.
How did you find your way into the historically male-dominated culinary industry?
Out of necessity, I’ve always worked in restaurants since I came to the U.S. in 2000. I started out as a dishwasher. As I kept getting promoted, I realized I loved the hospitality industry — being of service to others, the fast pace, even the late night hours! I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Even though I noticed the the front-of-house was typically female-dominated and the back-of-house was male-dominated, I was always comfortable in both environments.
What has been a defining moment, positive or negative, in your career?
Trying a plant-based diet in 2010 while I was going to culinary school. It was a fun challenge to apply to everything — I learned to twist it around with new ingredients.
Tell us about the culinary women who serve up inspiration in your life.
Women of color in all art forms inspire me. When it comes to food, I follow Salimatu Amabebe (Black Feast / Bliss House), Dhanista Rivera (Om Sabor), and Kris Moyer (Sumaq Vegan). Of course, I must mention my dear friends Denise Vallejo (Alchemy Orgánica) and Genisa Castañeda (Plant Food For People). These women all showed me that you could be vegan of color way before there were options for us, from actual food options in restaurants to a community that looked like us.
What advice do you have for women trying to build their culinary careers?
Go with your gut!