Get to know Chef Leah


My background

I am originally from the Philippines. I live in Highlands Ranch with my husband and two boys, who are both in college. One will be in college and one is already in college. I really love cooking. More than 15 years ago, I started my (private) cooking company. My first big event was at the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival. That was the first time I worked an event … people were lining up. It was really exciting. Introducing my Filipino cuisine was some kind of niche I brought to the community. It was really nice it was accepted, so every year I would have a booth and it would be sold out.

I would get calls every time after an event from people calling about birthday parties and weddings.

Staying local

I feel like I am from Highlands Ranch, now. I love Colorado, especially the Denver culinary scene because it is so trendy. Being a private chef, it's really nice to create something from scratch. I'm creating my own creations for my menu, and they love it.

Filipino favorites

Anthony Bourdain was one of the chefs that promoted Filipino cuisines … and one of his favorite dish was called sisig, which in my version will be flambe, pork belly and other parts of the pig that are not used (as much). It's very tender. You put eggs on it — it's like a dish you need to drink a beer with.

Filipino food is a lot of influences, mostly from Spaniards (who colonized parts of the Philippine Islands for the past 300 years). That being said, we speak a little bit of Spanish and a lot of our dishes… have a Spanish name. With that, there are more Spanish and also a lot of Chinese influence and Southeast Asia influence. We have a mixture of all these bold flavors. We eat foods simultaneously — salad, appetizer, desert — we put it all on one plate. It's not spicy at all. It has bold flavors, either salty and sweet flavors, and it's really a nice mix. We will have eggrolls for our opening. Those are things I'm excited to share.

That's how we connect with each other — gathering. We eat food, tell stories and get to know what's going on with everyone. It's just close to my heart — cooking and sharing with others. I'm humbled, myself.

How I got cooking

When I was little, my mom was always cooking something ... Being little, I would just tag along and see what she was doing. I didn't really have any intentions of cooking in the future. Somehow, it made sense to me, that passion. No matter how poor we were, when we would have guests, we would feed them. We would make something and that was the hospitality we had to offer — food. It took me a while to realize "I like to cook too!" So I started to experiment as a little girl.

My advice for young chefs

Follow your heart. Follow what you're happy doing and really pursue that. Listen to yourself and shut out all the other noises. Be yourself and be in tune with that voice inside you, whatever that may be and just go for it. Work hard as much as you can. At the end of the day, do one more thing. My thing is doing 110%. If I miss that last 10%, it (negates) that 100%. Really, pursuing what you're passionate about and never, ever give up. Put yourself out there and take a risk. Show up. Be punctual.

What I learned from winning Cutthroat Kitchen

Without formal training, I went into this competition, being filmed and all that, and won. So, (I thought) what are other things I can do to really step up? I enrolled myself into culinary school. I had a scholarship at the Auguste Escoffier of Culinary Arts in Boulder. I did that full-time. It was amazing how it opened my eyes to classical French technique and the farm-to-table concept. That's how I became more of a seasoned chef. I really had a lot of time to talk to myself to see if that was something I wanted to do.


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