Dame Monica Lal

The Monterey Chapter of Les Dames is proud to introduce Dame Monica Lal, a professional chef with a 25-year career in hotels and restaurants working nationally and internationally including ten years as an estate manager and chef for a hotelier family from Hong Kong.  Currently she is the President and CEO of the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce where hospitality is the number one economic driver and industry.   But first a word about her background.

Monica is a Monterey Peninsula native with parents from the Fiji Islands and of South Asian and Mexican descent respectively,  growing up amongst religious and cultural diversity. 

Both parents were connected to their heritages as the first immigrants in their families and they, in turn sponsored their parents and siblings.  Within the family there was always someone to cook, eat and joke with.  While international products were not as available when Monica was growing up as they are today, Monterey County is an agricultural county with an active military base and international language school, so the family was able to source Asian and Mexican herbs and spices not available elsewhere and re-create home food.  

Always with an eye towards international studies, Monica graduated from Reed College with a degree in history only to find herself in a national recession.  At the suggestion of her brother, she applied to the AT&T golf tournament in Pebble Beach for a job as a temporary helper.  It was love at first sight and the beginning of her career in hospitality.  Of course, there were challenges from uniforms that didn’t fit, to no designated restroom access, or finding the pass was too high.  Monica sought competitive kitchens, knowing that she was being constantly assessed, but chose to feel that she was not being singled out.  Nevertheless, she was often told she was “too young” as an excuse for not advancing her position.  Her father was an Executive Chef, so she had an inside look at the hospitality industry which helped.

When asked if she will celebrate AANHPI, she said “yes, of course”. She plans to continue to share stories with her daughters, staying connected to their Naani and Abuela (grandmothers) who live their culture.  While somewhat discreet, there is a view this group is “too foreign”, so she sees the  increasingly visible roles that AANHPI play in national politics a good start to overcome this prejudice.  She is also a great role model in the community as a lifelong volunteer, serving as Board President of the Bojuka Ryu Parent-Student Association (Judo Club) in Marina, working with Loaves & Fishes at San Carlos Cathedral in Monterey, acting as co-leader of Girl Scout Troop 30610, in addition to being actively involved in her children’s schools.  And she admits food plays an invaluable role in keeping her cultural traditions alive.  She says she relies on okra, potato curry and black beans but won’t eat roti with Mexican food or tortillas with Indian food.  “That’s a bridge too far for me to cross.”Despite her new role as the chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce, she continues to cook with friends on large scale production events and donates her time to charitable events as a private chef for dinners at fundraising auctions.  Her advice to other Dames, “Jump in whenever you can, understand what you like, and with food, let it speak for itself.”

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