She didn’t intentionally follow her father’s footsteps. Jai Lal immigrated to the Monterey Peninsula from the Fiji Islands in 1957 and became a respected chef, both at The Lodge at Pebble Beach and Anton & Michel. But N. Monica Lal earned a degree in history from Reed College and thought a gig she took at Pebble Beach was just temporary. Twenty-five years later, Lal has cooked around the world, has been inducted into Les Dames d’Escoffier and is Chef in Residence at Stonepine Estate. “Developing menus for 20 to 40 people is a happy place for me to cook,” she says.
Weekly: What’s the difference between your father’s time as a chef and yours?
Lal: I think being able to have consistent staffing, not having to ask the staff to multi task. People would work their five days. It was more of a living wage. And people dined differently.
Fast casual is the name of the game. People sit down to eat less often.
They eat rather than dine.
Yes, that’s a good way to put it.
Is it a bit crazy to want to be a chef?
It’s hard work, but I find it’s so satisfying. If you want to be a millionaire, it’s probably not going to happen in hospitality. But there’s a tremendous amount to learn, which to me is exciting.
Do chefs cook at home?
I always have, but that’s just me. I can eat better if I buy cheese at The Cheese Shop, get bread from Ad Astra. I visit farmers markets. I’m in the bean club – heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, which is kind of geeky, but awesome.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you do?
That’s a tough one. I’d be happy being a teacher. I’d be happy being a book editor.