Chef Melissa Araujo’s Alma
By Ana García
Click aqui para español- >Melissa Araujo: Alma de Chef
The city of New Orleans is world-renowned for its delicious cuisine. Thanks to the fact that this city enjoys a very diverse cultural influence, a modern Honduran restaurant like Alma Cafe can exist.”
Melissa Araujo, chef and founder of Alma Café, was born in La Ceiba, on the Atlantic coast of Honduras. She grew up primarily in Providence, Rhode Island, and New Orleans. She never stopped visiting her beloved country every summer.
Melissa is the ninth daughter of an Italian/Honduran couple. At 16, she began working in the kitchen, washing dishes. It was always essential for her father that their children received a college education, so Melissa entered college to study law. After a while, she suspended her studies and began working in different restaurants in the city. “I did not choose this profession; the profession picked me,” said Chef Araujo about finding her passion for cooking.
Upon entering her restaurant Alma Cafe, a portrait of her parents and a striking mural of the Mayan goddess Ixchel, goddess of the moon, love, and fertility, catches your attention. The personal touches throughout the restaurant give it a cozy feel.
Alma, the word for soul in Spanish, was the name Araujo gave the restaurant because it represents her essence. “Alma is not a name; it is not a person, it is my spirit, it is my soul, it is who forms Melissa,” says the chef, adding that “the photos of this restaurant are my family, the recipes are my family.”
The successful chef highlights that the goal of Alma Café is to show that Honduran culture has much to offer, and that is why she tells the story of her country through her family’s recipes.
Araujo is proud of her heritage, and she is also proud of Alma having an all-female kitchen team. Her sister, Ana Araujo, is in charge of keeping the traditional recipes in the kitchen, and her general manager, Ashleigh Oquelí, runs a smooth operation under the chef’s absolute trust.
Alma Café offers delicious breakfasts and lunches. One of the most requested dishes is the Alma Breakfast, a dish consisting of ripe plantain slices, refried beans, eggs, cream, avocado, and fresh, homemade cheese.
The baleada is Araujo’s recommended dish. Alma’s baleada is the chef’s modern adaptation of the quintessential Honduran staple and her grandmother’s recipe. The baleada consists of a tortilla hand-made to order, refried beans, scrambled eggs, homemade cream, and fresh cheese. For garnish, Araujo uses locally-grown microgreens to add flavor and freshness to the dish. Customers can customize the baleada by adding avocado or their preferred protein. Apart from the delicious natural aguas frescas, flavored fruit waters with no added sugar, Alma offers imported 100% Honduran coffee of the highest quality.
According to Araujo, this modern Honduran restaurant aims to “take the traditional and raise it a foot or two higher, and start putting Honduran gastronomy on the map.” For this reason, one of the chef’s goals is also to open the doors of Alma to serve as a launching platform for future Honduran chefs. Araujo understands that this profession is full of sacrifices, and it is not easy to get to where she is. Her advice to aspiring chefs: “Never listen to someone who tells you that you will not be able to make it; you can do it. You need to know your capacity, and nobody can tell you what your capacity is.”
Alma Café is currently open seven days a week from 8 am to 3 pm at 800 Louisa Street in New Orleans. In the fall, Araujo plans to expand the service hours to include dinner so that customers can indulge in delicious wines while they continue to enjoy her excellent cuisine.
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