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Meet Chef Lauren Ziemski of The Firefly Bocas Del Toro in Silver Lake

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chef Lauren Ziemski.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Oh wow, haha! I used to dance, do musical theatre professionally. In 2007, a movie theatre ceiling fell on my head (yes, while in a theatre watching a movie) which pretty much ended that and my life took a turn. Being an actress, I was always working in restaurants and have always been obsessed with food… cooking for friends and having dinner parties. It wasn’t until after the accident that I started thinking about cooking as a job. The restaurant Gjelina, in Venice, where I worked for four years, really shaped my cooking style of using local and seasonal ingredients. A few of us from Gjelina (the Sommelier and Sous Chef) started an underground supper club and that’s really where I started to learn technique and became obsessed with cooking. It wasn’t long before people were asking for my card and asking me to cook privately for them. So, I kind of fell into it the private chef game. For the next few years, I had regular clients and cooking was my obsession. My boyfriend and I traveled frequently and had a dream to open a little place on a Caribbean island. That small dream turned into a full-time business in Bocas Del Toro, Panama called: The Firefly which has been open for 6 years now. It has been featured on several shows on HGTV and The Travel Channel and the restaurant is regarded as one of the best in Panama and Central America. Recently, The Food Network created a show for me and I was lucky enough to film the pilot in Costa Rica. Currently, I go back and forth between la and Panama to my business and private chef when in LA.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Is the path ever smooth?! Just the process alone of what led me to cook for a living was interesting. Without that accident, my life would probably never gone in this direction, and I wouldn’t have had that little bit of money from a settlement to buy property in another country. So, all of what I have now is my silver lining to what at the time was pretty traumatic. And of course, starting a business in another country came with its own headaches and problems. Getting the business open was a huge feat. Every day, I look back and don’t know how we did it, how we got to this point. And now the power outages, the wildlife, the process of getting ingredients to an island, the extreme weather… it all seems easy. Sure, I can cook in the dark with a headlamp on when the power inevitably goes out at least once a month! no, I’m not phased by the geckos running around all over the place. People laugh when they realize I bring ingredients in on a wheelbarrow since there are no roads on the island. Everything comes by boat. Appliances break and rust in the tropical air all the time, sometimes deliveries don’t come at all, everyone is on island time, it can be a struggle for sure. But, it has forced me to be creative and think outside the box. Cooking on an island with limited ingredients has tested my creativity for sure but I love that. I thrive on that.

Please tell us about The Firefly Bocas Del Toro, also Private Chef.
My restaurant in Bocas was the first restaurant to do something other than the typical rice/beans and a protein. I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing but I wanted to stay local with ingredients so it was a challenge. For example, There are only a few different vegetables available so getting creative and using them in different ways was a fun process. Food is such an important part of the travel experience and I want people to be excited about what they are eating. I was also the first to really “plate” the food. Coming from LA, I have a certain type of aesthetic and am lucky to have been influenced by so many amazing restaurants here. Other restaurants in the area have now caught up and I like to think that I contributed to that.

My restaurant focuses on what is locally available so I had to look at those ingredients and come up with a cohesive menu. The food is “Thai-Caribbean”. So, many ingredients on the island speak to cooking Thai food, the spices, the milk from the coconuts in my yard to the lemongrass growing wild etc yet I wanted to also utilize the fruit growing everywhere and incorporate that Caribbean element.

Here in la, I am constantly inspired by all of the amazing ingredients available to us. Its the opposite of what is available to me in Bocas. so here, I’m like a kid in a candy store. The seasonality of food keeps me creative and that comes through in the menus I prepare for my clients here in la. I’m proud that I have been working with some of my clients for years. I’m proud that I’m basically a one-woman show so it’s all very personal. I love working with clients on menus. And of course, I love that all of my employees are friends and that we get to work together all the time. Work is always fun and creative. So, it never feels like work.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I don’t think I would have done anything differently. Every test, every hardship led me to now, led me to what I have. I’m super grateful.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Charles Aydlett

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