Here’s What Executive Chef Chandra Gilbert of Gracias Madre Cooks at Home
Written By: Damon Gonzalez
Photographed By: Benjamin Benoit Chef Chandra Gilbert
Chef Chandra Gilbert’s love affair with cooking began at age five when gifted an Easy Bake oven along with an economy sized supply of cake mixes for a birthday present. Gilbert went to work right away, baking cakes and toting them around in a red Easy Rider wagon for profit. “From an early age, I had an appreciation for cooking, baking and commerce,” they said. While studying English Literature in college, they worked as a server in several restaurants, and soon jumped from front of the house to kitchen, eventually leaving college to enjoy a long and successful culinary career.
With a resume that includes everything from working as a pastry chef for Alice Waters’ Café Fanny in Berkeley, to a cheese maker at Cowgirl Creamery, Chef Gilbert decided to open the original Gracias Madre in 2009 in San Francisco with Café Gratitude founders Matthew and Terces Engelhart.
In 2014, Gilbert became the Executive Chef of the plant-based Mexican restaurant, Gracias Madre, in West Hollywood. They see cooking “as an expression of love.” Whether at the restaurant or at home, Gilbert feels the most comfortable in the kitchen, creating healthy seasonal dishes for patrons, friends and family.
Between the passing of Gilbert’s father at age 40 from hardening arteries and having a partner who practices veganism, Chef Gilbert decided to make a change in their eating habits, and now enjoys an 80 percent vegan diet. “Eating vegan is cholesterol free dining,” they said.
Inspired by their new healthy habits, family members took note and began to modify as well. “Everyone knows plants and vegetables are good for you. Adding them to your diet will add positive health benefits. On top of that, there are environmental benefits,” said Gilbert.
We visited Gilbert at home and in the kitchen to see this chef in action. “Cooking at home allows for more flexibility. You are freed up from client based demands. In the restaurant, you need to acquire ingredients in mass quantities. At home, I get to shoot from the hip and be adventurous. I can revel in the moment of the season, buy fresh ingredients from local markets like the Santa Monica Market and create fast dishes for myself or friends; off the cuff,” said Gilbert.
After a long day at work, you may think a chef would want to go home and have someone else cook for them, but not Gilbert.
Throughout the day, Gilbert doesn’t eat large meals—mostly tasting small bites and sauces. “I look forward to sitting down at home and enjoying a full meal,” they said.
Inspired by the earth, Gilbert judges a successful meal based on consumption, “If people ask for more, you know it’s a hit. If a dish keeps coming back untouched, there’s been a breakdown,” said Gilbert. “I am truly inspired by the people who work with me. It is important for me to highlight their contributions. I would be nothing without them,” they added.
In the bright Beverly Hills kitchen, Gilbert whipped up a fresh, spicy guacamole mixed with pomegranates, butternut squash tacos and a pumpkin flan that will send you over the edge—food so good and without the guilt. You may not be a vegan, but Chef Gilbert’s cooking will make you strongly consider it.
Also on hand was Gracias Madre’s mixologist, Maxwell Reis, who prepared a soothing Lion’s Tail. One sip will make you want to curl up near a fire and read a good book. Following in the holiday tradition, Gilbert plans on cooking Christmas tamales with raisins, pineapple and apples for friends and family. “We also do ones with butternut squash. I enjoy classic holiday dishes too. My family is from the Midwest, pumpkin pie, roast turkey— love it all,” they said. Forks at the ready!
Chef Gilbert’s At Home Go-To: Seasonal vegetables like tomatoes, Tuscan melons and roasted beets with oil, garlic and salt, or as Gilbert calls it “the Holy Trilogy.”
Butternut Squash Tacos
3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 lbs winter squash, such as butternut or banana squash, peeled and cut in half inch dice
Salt to taste
1 to 2 chiles chipotle in adobo (to taste), removed from the adobo and minced
1/2 cup vegan nacho cheese (see recipe below)
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
3 avocados cubed
12 corn tortillas
- Cook the squash. Heat half of the olive oil in a large, heavy cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the squash in a single layer. Turn the heat down to medium. Cook five minutes or until the squash is nicely browned on one side; shake the pan to turn the squash or use tongs. Cook for another five to 10 minutes, shaking the pan often or stirring with a wooden spoon, until the squash is nicely browned and tender when pierced by a knife or fork. Season to taste with salt, then transfer to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining olive oil and squash.
- When the second batch of squash is tender, return the first batch of squash to the pan and stir everything together. Add the chipotles, and toss in the pan for one more minute. Remove from the heat, stir for a minute and then stir in the nacho cheese.
- Heat the tortillas. Fill the bottom of a steamer with 1/2 inch of water, and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, wrap the tortillas in a heavy kitchen towel, and place in the steamer basket above the boiling water. Cover tightly and steam one minute, then turn off the heat but do not uncover. Let stand for 15 minutes.
- Take warmed tortillas and top with the squash. Sprinkle on the pumpkin seeds and avocado, garnish with cilantro and enjoy.
1/2 cup cashews soaked overnight and drained well
2 chiles chipotle
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp lime juice
Blend very well
Mezcal Lion’s Tail
2 oz. Mezcal
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/2 Allspice Dram
1/2 oz. Poire Pear Brandy
1/2 oz. simple syrup
Garnished with a pear fan and grated nutmeg
8905 Melrose Ave
West Hollywood, CA 90069
LA Hotspot Gracias Madre’s Executive Chef Cooks Drool-Worthy Dishes at Home