For the superstitious, the number thirteen often bodes bad luck and misfortune. However, for Chef Gabbi Patrick, thirteen just happens to be the number of years between opening her first restaurant, aptly named Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen, and her latest success, Chaak Kitchen. And it isn’t just sheer luck that has contributed to her success, but a lifetime of dedication and hard work.
Chef Gabbi grew up in the restaurant business and worked her way up. Her parents – originally from Yucatan, Mexico – moved to the United States when they were sixteen and began restaurants of their own. Chef Gabbi comments, “My dad still has his Don Cuco restaurants that he started” in 1969. Located in Toluca Lake, Downtown Burbank, and Simi Valley, each of her father’s establishments serve Mexican-American style food. At age nineteen, following her parents’ divorce, Chef Gabbi managed and worked the front-of-the-house for her mother’s two restaurants, which have since been closed for several years. Although experienced with the front-of-the-house, she soon realized that she was not familiar enough with the back-of-the-house. Chef Gabbi recalls, “I felt like I needed to learn a little more because it was definitely tough for me being a nineteen-year-old girl, trying to tell people what to do in a Latin kitchen.” To learn more, Chef Gabbi chose to attend the UCLA Culinary Institute Program; it was there in the kitchen where her passion for food ignited, prompting her to move from the front-of-the-house to the back-of-the-house.
In her last year of culinary school, Chef Gabbi met Ed Patrick, her husband and co-owner of their two restaurants. Together they have travelled extensively through Mexico, learning about the different regions’ cuisines. During their travels, the concept of Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen menu was born. Both Chef Gabbi and Ed felt that the cuisine that they were experiencing in Mexico wasn’t being well-represented in the U.S., so they opened their first restaurant, Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen, in 2006 as a way to better represent the cuisine in Orange County. For Gabbi’s menu, they took inspiration from travels to Vera Cruz, Oaxaca, and Yucatan. They made sauce-driven dishes that they felt really highlighted the region and its flavors, with Chef Gabbi’s own spin added.
When the time came to open up Chaak Kitchen, Ed notes, “We weren’t really comfortable leaving Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen so soon. We had opportunities to expand rapidly, but we really wanted to be thoughtful about it.” Chef Gabbi and Ed ultimately knew the timing was right because they had the staff and the management to help support the transition, although it was tough spending time away from Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen. However, they were excited to create a new restaurant dedicated specifically to Yucatan cuisine, since there isn’t a lot of Yucatan cuisine prominently represented in the United States. Chef Gabbi explains that she wanted to focus on Yucatan cuisine because, “Number one, my mother was not a Mexican cook – she was a Yucatecan cook, so I was very connected to the cuisine, and it really seemed natural for me.” Chef Gabbi also notes that just as there are different regions of Italian foods, there are different regions of Mexican foods. By branching out to the regional-specific food of Yucatan, Chef Gabbi hoped to expand the representation and reach of her personal cuisine and that of the region. Yucatan dishes are about smoke, rubs, and spices, and have Spanish, Mediterranean, and Caribbean influences. Chef Gabbi smiles, remembering how when Chaak Kitchen first opened, fans of Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen came “looking for salsa and chips, but that’s not the region.”
Now with two restaurants to manage and develop menus for, Chef Gabbi has had to learn how to delegate. Consequently, she doesn’t have as much time to be in the kitchen, although she misses it. At home, her husband Ed usually does the cooking. But when Chef Gabbi cooks at home, her favorite meals to prepare are simple dishes, such as salads with homemade dressings. Although Chef Gabbi likes to keep things simple at home, that doesn’t stop her kids from special requests for birthdays or holidays. “When it’s their birthday, it’s not something simple,” Chef Gabbi says with a laugh. “They like labor intensive meals. I wish they loved peanut butter and jelly, but they don’t go that route.” While creating the menu for Chaak Kitchen, they made and tested everything at home. Now that Chaak Kitchen has opened, Chef Gabbi likes to bring her kids there. “They love it, so they’re very proud of their parents,” she says. “That’s actually the number one thing; I strive for that.” Chef Gabbi’s passion for region-specific food and the nuances of its flavors make her dishes stand out, cultivating representation for the unique tastes of Yucatan.