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Karime Lopez – Why the future of gastronomy should be more female

By: Reading Time: 6 Minutes
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From zero to one hundred on her own accord – becoming the highly decorated head chef at Massimo Bottura’s Gucci Osteria. Right now, no success story is more spectacular than that of the Mexican female chef Karime Lopez. But what’s behind her meteoric rise and what makes her a gamechanger?

I learned to pay close attention to every detail in the kitchen when I was a kid.Karime Lopez on a childhood that still serves as her base today.

Short profile of Karime Lopez
 Born in Mexico, Karime Lopez went to Paris at 18 to study art. While there, she realized the culinary arts were arguably the most fascinating of all – and quickly decided to become a chef. After training in the Spanish city Seville, Lopez worked at the best restaurants in the world. In 2018, she became head chef at Gucci Osteria, a collaboration between Massimo Bottura and the Italian fashion label Gucci. She received a Michelin star and many other awards for her kitchen in 2019.

Her bright eyes are what immediately catch your attention. They eagerly focus on the person she’s talking to, as if she wanted to look behind their facade out of genuine curiosity. As a result, you only have to have spoken briefly with Karime Lopez to remember her and know that great things will come from her.

However, one person who is himself a culinary mastermind recognized this particularly early on: Takahiko Kondo, longtime sous chef at Massimo Bottura’s three-star Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. “If we hadn’t met, my life would have been very different,” says Karime Lopez today. This statement refers to much more than just her career, which has been spectacular ever since. Eight years have passed since the two first met during a cooking happening in New York.

Leading the way for Karime, her husband Takahiko Kondo

Karime and her husband Takahiko | Image: Gucci Osteria

Today, Karime Lopez and Takahiko are married, have a daughter and live in Florence. Karime Lopez, head chef at Massimo Bottura’s Gucci Osteria, is one of the most dazzling chefs in the world right now. For example, in 2019 she was named Italy’s Female Chef of the Year, in 2020 she became the first Mexican woman ever to win a Michelin star and in Mexico she is now a ubiquitous culinary icon. If you want to redefine the saying “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” this would be the best opportunity to do so. The combination of love and top culinary artistry has rarely made anyone as happy as these two people.

It can all be traced back to her childhood

But it takes much more than mere personal affection to achieve the kind of leap to the top of the world that Karime Lopez has made. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the first ingredients of her obvious recipe for success can be found in her childhood. Even as a young girl, she was always standing in her mother’s kitchen in Mexico, trying to grasp and understand every move with her curious eyes. She soon helped her prepare family meals. She learned to be picky with the ingredients and that the local markets had everything they needed to whip up delicious delicacies. Looking back, it seems almost obvious that Karime would leave school at the tender age of 18 to conquer the culinary capital of the world – Paris. However, at first she wasn’t there to perfect her culinary skills, but rather to study art at the Sorbonne.

Always fascinated by art, cooking is the most beautiful kind of art for Karime

Image: Gucci Osteria

Painting, drawing, working with shapes and colors – the Mexican-born artist didn’t know very much more about what she wanted to do with her life at the time. “I lived near a boulangerie, which I always walked past on my way to university and I always stopped to take a look. I was completely fascinated by the display windows with such a wide variety of pâtisseries. This was something I had never seen in Mexico. I couldn’t ignore all these little works of art anymore.”

The fascination with art has sharpened my perspective.Karime Lopez.

Cooking – the most beautiful art form for Karime Lopez

Those were probably the days when she discoverd the first two components of her career. Her fascination with art had led her to a point where, thanks to the basic knowledge imparted by her mother, she understood that the craft of cooking was the most beautiful art form in her eyes. And so her life path took her away from Paris again. “I wanted to delve as deeply into cooking as possible, which was only possible in my native language,” she recalls. For three years, she learned the basics of high-end cuisine – in Seville, Spain. Afterward, she immediately started working at one of Spain’s most prestigious addresses: the three-star El Racó de Can Fabes run by the Spanish grandmaster Santi Santamaria. For Lopez, it was both a hard time and a time well spent. The hierarchy, the rough tone, the chef’s uncompromising attention to detail. “It was a new world for me,” Lopez says. “That made this time so difficult.” And yet looking back, Lopez feels she has never transcended herself as much as she did then.

What this tough experience gave me as a person, what it kindled in me, is priceless.Karime Lopez.
Karime Lopez has already worked in the most famous restaurants in the world

Image: ChefAlps | Nadine Kaegi

It’s no wonder that after this baptism of fire, the then 25-year-old was up for anything. She worked at the best restaurants in the world: Mugaritz, Pujol, Noma, Nihonryori RyuGin. And in Central. For almost six years, Lopez helped shape the cuisine of what is probably the most famous Latin American restaurant. Alongside Virgilio Martínez, she set out in search of long-forgotten foods in the Peruvian hinterland. From Arapaima, a freshwater fish from the Amazon, to the arracacha root bulb from the Andes, to the edible cyanobacterium Kushuru in the humid highlands, the artisanal top chef has also become a researcher who brought indigenous flavor cultures back to life. That was when she finally met Massimo Bottura’s sous chef, who she now lovingly calls Kondo – an encounter that was supposed to become the temporary culmination of her culinary world tour.

Appetizer by Karime Lopez, one of the best female chefs worldwide

Image: Gucci Osteria

A book that changes everything

This is how it came about: In 2017, after marrying Kondo, Lopez decided to settle down. She moved to Modena with her husband. She was enjoying the Italian lifestyle and suddenly had Massimo Bottura’s offer on the table to write the cookbook “Bread is Gold” with him. To quickly sum things up, Bottura was so impressed with her work that he offered her the opportunity to become the head chef for his latest project: Gucci Osteria in Florence.

A gorgeous restaurant, the Gucci Osteria in Florence

Image: Gucci Osteria

We women have to unite and support each other!Karime Lopez sees her role as leading the way to a more female future.

Being a woman and mother as assets

It’s a brightly colored and fabulously fashionable world you enter when you step through the door into Gucci Osteria today. Sure, if it says Gucci on the outside, it must be Gucci on the inside as well. That alone would have intimidated many of Lopez’s peers. Not so this tough Mexican. She seized the opportunity and didn’t just create her own intricate dishes, but in turn gave each of them a story. She herself says, “I’m inspired by the stories people tell me, the colors I see every day, and the melting pot of cultures and experiences that each individual discovers every day.” Once again, it is her discerning, keen eye and gift of observation that guides and directs Karime Lopez.

It's a brightly colored, damn chic world you enter when you step through the door into Gucci Osteria today.

Image: Gucci Osteria

The female future of gastronomy

Apparently, this is so true she is already being talked about as the “world’s best female chef” – an award she would receive with mixed feelings. Even though her main focus is on her dishes and their stories, the 39-year-old is still thinking outside the box, and sees himself as a female role model in a male-dominated cooking world. She says, “We women have to unite and always support each other!”

Karime Lopez, executive chef at Gucci Osteria in Florence on stage at ChefAlps.

Image: ChefAlps | Nadine Kaegi

For her, this also means that the guiding principle in her crew is equality, that her life as a mother does not conflict with the role of head chef – and that a new form of cooperation is practiced in her kitchen. The approach is calm and deliberate, not loud and testosterone-fueled. Every day, their guests taste anew how well this new approach works. What else might be in store for this extraordinary gamechanger? This is probably in the (Michelin) stars.

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