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Freshens Up the Menu at Pete's Cafe

Years before loft living became the thing to do in downtown L.A.'s Old Bank District, Pete's Cafe & Bar opened its doors in 2002 on Fourth and Main, and today remains the go-to spot for consistent comfort food. Executive chef Michelle Lainez keeps them coming. The 30-year-old Salvadoran American chef has been running the kitchen for over a year, but humble roots and hardcore work ethics are in her blood. Lainez was born and raised in La Puente, CA to parents who came to L.A. in the late 70s, seeking asylum from a war-torn El Salvador. There she spent her summers with family on a farm, where her cooking skills were born. "If you didn't cook, you didn't eat," she said of the three months a year she spent in El Salvador from age 8 to 16. "It was such an important part of my life and culture growing up." Lainez has been working professionally since she was 18, and has done stints at seven acclaimed kitchens, including Café Pinot and Cafe del Rey. Her kitchen philosophy consists of making everything from scratch and sticking to a zero waste policy. It's this resourcefulness that the bubbly chef brings to Pete's, where she shrunk portions to avoid waste and added fresh produce from the local farmer's market to support the economy. She hasn't touched favorites like the Hellman Burger, blue cheese fries and bread pudding, but added specialties like consommé soups and homemade cheeses. "If you go into my walk-in, I can tell you where 75% of my vegetables come from," Lainez said. "It's really important to know that story. We're not only nourishing people, we're helping farmers like my family in El Salvador." The conscious cook can't take the city out of her. She prefers Ketel One with cucumber, lime juice and simple syrup, and got giddy when I asked who's the most exciting guest to step foot into Pete's. She recalled last summer when Jennifer Lopez came in for brunch and sat on the sidewalk patio, eating chilaquiles and sipping on mimosas. "No egg whites, no tomatoes," Lainez said. " She was like, 'I'm having chilaquiles straight up.' I was like, 'Let's do it, girl!' It was rad." [Laughter] —Kamren Curiel, Custom Publishing Writer
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