For Gabriela Machado, creating an exquisite amuse bouche her foie gras crème brulee with Grand Marnier crackle and gold leaf, for example begins where all of her recipes do: in her boundless culinary imagination.
Born and raised in Venezuela, educated as a graphic designer at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, the chef-owner of Midtowns Copperbox Culinary Atelier has forged a distinctive path into the world of high-end dining. Slender, striking and intense, Machado has also managed the myriad challenges of living with type 1 diabetes for most of her 38 years. Today, she is a sought-after chef, yet she sometimes restricts herself to the tiniest tastes of her own food.
My instincts, my sense of smell and touch for me, its the world, says Machado in her cookbook-lined office at Copperbox. I can taste everything, but its just a drop. My husband says its like Beethoven writing music he didnt hear.
Her husband, economist Rafael Alcantara-Lansberg, has been in her life since he spotted her at a party in Caracas when she was 15. He was 16, a self-described dork, but he thought, I need to meet this girl.
They lived together while she was at the Art Institute and he studied philosophy, economics and political science at the University of Pennsylvania. Practical yet adventurous, they used the housing stipend Machados parents provided to travel, exploring the world one great meal at a time.
Of the woman who has been his wife since 1999, Alcantara-Lansberg says, She has tenacidad persistence. ... Shes strong in a way I know Im not.
It was Alcantara-Lansberg who set her on her career path. As a newlywed in Caracas who knew little about cooking, she began making chicken empanadas for him empanadas so good that he told her, Oh my God, you need to write the recipe and sell these.
In 2001, she founded the Sans Remorse Baking Co., creating healthy chicken, spinach, ricotta cheese and Splenda-sweetened apple empanadas, as well as extravagantly sized muffins that she supplied to top Caracas gyms and the Automercados Plazas supermarket chain.
With no money to grow the business, she changed course in 2002, launching a VIP catering service she ran for six years. Studying with a Cantonese chef, then learning about Thai, Vietnamese and Cambodian cuisine, she became a voracious reader of cookbooks and a chef unafraid of experimentation.
I try to respect tradition, but I put things together differently like Italian with Japanese, she says. I dont have boundaries when Im cooking, but I dont like being labeled fusion.
In 2008, Machado bought into a gourmet food shop and catering service that became Atar-Gabriela Machado. Two years later, Alcantara-Lansberg proposed that they move to Miami, where his firm, New Market Analytics, had relocated its U.S. headquarters. She cried at first, but by the next day had bought a plane ticket and called her sister-in-law, who had a place in South Florida.
In 10 days, I had a car and a house here, Machado says. I know what I want.
After a few restless months off in the summer of 2010, Machado conjured the dream that became Copperbox. Her husband, New Markets CFO and chief economist, explained that the numbers didnt add up.