This Women’s History Month, we’re amplifying the voices of women in the culinary world. A chef “both in heart and by trade,” Dayanny De La Cruz is one such woman you should know about.
We sat down with Chef Dayanny, the current VP of Culinary for Levy Restaurants, and asked her how she got her start in the industry and what it means to be a woman in the culinary world.
Read on to learn more about Chef Dayanny!
Answering the Call
When Chef Dayanny first arrived in the United States, she had very little knowledge of the culinary world, having worked previously in hospitality. “I arrived in the United States almost 25 years ago. Not in the business [of culinary] at all. I was in hospitality first,” Chef Dayanny recalls. “And I moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan. And through that, I decided to go back to school and follow up with what I always felt was my center because I come from a family where everything happens around the table.”
In an effort to come back to her culinary foundation, Chef Dayanny went back to school to learn the culinary arts. She attended culinary school in Michigan and was later employed as an executive chef at the DoubleTree Hilton in Illinois. From there, she continued to climb the culinary ladder, working for Levy Restaurants, leading her to the world of sports and entertainment.
“When I started sports entertainment, it was something where nobody knew what we did behind the scenes. Which was super amazing for me because it did allow me to kind of trail-blaze with the amazing mentors helping me through it.”
“With Levy, I probably did some of the most major sports events in the country. From Derby, I opened Barclays Center in Brooklyn, USTA was my account for quite a couple of years, and I worked with many NBA stars,” Chef Dayanny recalls.
Although Chef Dayanny moved four times for the company, she quickly found her way back to her roots, moving back home to Miami, Florida. There, she took on the position as Executive Sous Chef for the Miami Heat when they were the champions back in 2013.
Coming Back Home
In coming back home to Miami, Chef Dayanny found herself coming back home to herself. “I felt like I really connected to my indigenous roots as a Latina. In our business, we travel a lot, re-locate a lot, but I feel like sometimes you don’t grow enough roots where you are.”
“Miami was what allowed me to connect with the community,” Chef Dayanny goes on. “It allowed me to connect with the diaspora — the group of chefs that are in the city. And it also allowed me to connect with a purpose and bloom into who I am today.”
Not too long after coming home, Chef Dayanny found herself taking on the role of corporate chef for a hotel company called OPL. This shift allowed her to take on innovation projects that connected her with small farmers and agricultural communities within Miami.
“I felt that it was the beginning of everything,” Chef Dayanny remembers. “The small farmers, the agricultural side of it, the healing side of what we do in this business and why we do it. The sustainability of it.”
Headlining the Super Bowl
But the biggest project Chef Dayanny took on was the Super Bowl in Miami, Florida, an event that allowed her to showcase her culinary skills and show the world that chefs are more than just caterers and restaurateurs.
“Anytime you put a white coat on, you have a responsibility towards the environment, diversity, and towards absolutely everything that’s around you. I’ve always said that what we do in this business, you can make or break something. We can make or break a small business, we can hurt sustainability efforts, you can donate a lot of things and fight food insecurity because we produce such a large amount [of food] that we are able to make an impact,” Chef Dayanny says.
For Chef Dayanny, being a chef for the Super Bowl was a first. Not just for her but for the Super Bowl as well. Chef Dayanny recalls when she discovered she was the first female chef to be hired for the Super Bowl.
“And I said, ‘What?’ Because I feel like it’s so crazy that we’re still talking about “the first.”
“So that was a moment of change for me because I felt like now, with more reasons, I want the world to know what we’re capable of. How we’re able to heal, how we’re able to connect, how we’re the ones that are able to connect between the community, the environment, our diversity, and who we are as a whole. And I felt like it was the perfect storm. And it had just come out that Shakira and JLo were the ones doing the half-time show, so I felt like it was the perfect storm for everything we were trying to achieve.”
But for Chef Dayanny, it wasn’t about being the first. It was about being able to bring awareness to the community about what people can do when they have the proper resources and support.
“I think that from that time moving forward, my purpose has always been how do we impact others? And it doesn’t matter to me if you’re a woman or a man. It matters if you don’t feel like you have the avenue, the resources, the mentorship, the sponsorship, or the allyship. So that’s what I think this chronological theme of my life has been.”