Latin Times Magazine had the pleasure of catching up with Christina recently -Christina is one of our 2019 Latina Movers N Shakers! Latin Times Magazine: What part of Florida do you live in – are you from Florida? If not – what brought you to Florida? LTM: What part of Florida do you live in – are you from Florida? If not – what brought you to Florida?
Chef Christina F. Suarez-Alvarez: I was born into a cigar family. Since birth, cigars and the industry have been a part of my life. My parents made the courageous decision to leave our home, our world in the United States and move us to the Dominican Republic, where I spent the first ten years of my life.
There, I not only attended school but also immersed myself, without realization because it did feel so natural, in the industry- it’s all I ever knew. It’s all my family knew, at least at that time because that was when it counted the most. My grandfather, Carlos Arturo Fuente, faced many trials and tribulations as he built the business, the brand; but once he set foot in the Dominican Republic, his world, our family’s world changed and has been growing and evolving ever since.
LTM: You come from one of the largest cigar families in the world, tell us what inspired you to become a chef?
Chef Christina F. Suarez-Alvarez: My family is the reason I decided to pursue a culinary career. Unlike many chefs, I did not grow up in the kitchen. Instead, I grew up following my grandfather and family up and down the cigar fields in Bonao, Dominican Republic. Looking back as an adult, I realize I did not have a traditional upbringing, but it’s my upbringing that has motivated me and further given me the courage to go outside of the norm, our norm. In college, I remember being at the UCF gym watching Chef Ina Garten on the Food Network and thinking, “I can do that.” From that moment forward, I knew my fascination towards food was more than a hobby; it was a real passion. I was taught to follow your passion, just as my great-grandfather Arturo and grandfather Carlos did. With passion along with drive and determination, you can do anything and everything you set your mind to. That said, I decided to move to New York City, “the concrete jungle where dreams are made of.”
LTM: Tell us about Chismis & Co. restaurant, what style of food is it?
Chef Christina F. Suarez-Alvarez: Shortly after relocating back to Tampa, I was introduced to Chef Noel Cruz, who also moved to New York to pursue a career in food. After working on several projects together, we decided to take our professional relationship to the next level. He gave me an opportunity to run a small restaurant within the Armature Works, a premier community destination full of innovative eateries. Our concept fuses different cuisines, but the main cuisine is Filipino. In New York, I worked as a food stylist on a Japanese-California fusion cookbook where I fell in love with Asian flavors. With that said, I was thrilled and excited to be introduced to a new wave of Asian flavors straight from the Philippines.
LTM: Growing up in Ybor/Tampa, what was it like for you, give us a story.
Chef Christina F. Suarez-Alvarez: Ybor City, also known as “Cigar City” is where it all began for our family. My great-grandfather started rolling cigars out of his small wooden house in Ybor City over a decade ago. Since then, our family has never left that part of Tampa. It’s there where we have our administrative offices/corporate headquarters and our cigar warehouse that was recently built to better store cigars for global distribution. Not to mention, the street that these buildings are on was officially named “Carlos Fuente’s Way,” in honor of my grandfather. And of course, Ybor City is now especially dear to my heart because it is where my husband and I solidified our love, our 10-year relationship in front of our families and friends on our wedding day last May. Although I was opposed to leaving the Dominican Republic and moving back to Florida, it was the best thing my parents did for my siblings and I. We were fortunate to be able to attend wonderful schools, meet incredible people and create meaningful connections & relationships along the way.
LTM: Are there any projects you are currently working on?
Chef Christina F. Suarez-Alvarez: Aside of my current role at Chismis & Co, I am also working on my next move. Towards the tail-end of my time in New York, I started to put together thoughts (with the help of my husband who is a brilliant business mind) on how I can make my mark in Tampa. This city has been so good to my family and to me, I would love nothing more than to give it something in return; even if it is in a small way to start. I believe we all need to start somewhere and what I have in mind for a business venture will bring something new, something different to a market that is continuously evolving. I am very proud of my hometown and how far it has come in every way, especially when it comes to food. And with that, I would love to contribute.
LTM: What is your favorite Latin Style food, do you love Cuban Sandwiches, and how do you like it?
Chef Christina F. Suarez-Alvarez: Come on, who doesn’t love a good cuban sandwich?? I know I sure do! I love my cubanos with all the fixings and pressed well so that the cheese starts to melt off the sides. I grew up eating Latin food and still today, it is my favorite cuisine of all time. I can never get enough of black beans and white rice. Although I am a classically trained French chef, I never have nor will I lose sight of my roots; and my roots are LATINO!
LTM: Who has always been your greatest inspiration and hero in your life?
Chef Christina F. Suarez-Alvarez: My faith. Although not an actual person, my faith has been the driving force that has led me through life. I was “saved” in the third grade, and since then, I have never been the same. I, along with my family, have endured a number of ups & downs especially within the last five years- we’ve faced three significant losses and have had our world turned upside down in more ways than one. It is my faith and relationship with God that has helped me navigate through these hardships and through daily stresses and struggles. My faith has not only helped me in hard times but it has provided me with fulfillment, strength and a unique outlook towards the world and the people in it.