Famed food critic Ruth Reichel declared Toribio Prado “a genius.” And Elle magazine says that Prado has revolutionized the Los Angeles restaurant scene “by bringing his unique style of Caribbean Cuisine to the forefront of culinary consciousness.”
Prado – also thee original chef of the famed Ivy restaurant – has parlayed his distinctive warmth, energy and a flair for fantastic food into the restaurant dynasty where attention to detail and the significance of family love are still the most important keys to success.
His current status as one of LA’s premiere restaurateurs has been a long road from his humble beginnings. Prado was born on a farm in La Finca, located in the Michoacan region of Mexico.
The tenth of fourteen children, Prado was not allowed to attend school by a domineering father and he ran away from home when he was just fourteen years old, unable to read or write.
What he lacked in a formal education, he more than made up for in tenacity and drive. He was unofficially “adopted” by a sympathetic Florida family and for two years he worked harvesting oranges and grapefruit and teaching himself to read and write in English.
At just 16, he ventured on his own once again. This time he was off to find his own version of the California. At first it was a job in the kitchen of Hugo’s in West Hollywood. Packed with the rich and famous nearly every night, the then hotspot introduced him to the glamour of the city.
A lengthy tenure at the fashionable Le Restaurant, introduced Prado – who learned to cook in his mother’s kitchen – the technique of cooking fine French cuisine and knowledge of fine wine. “In those days,” Prado remembers. “French chefs were secretive about everything they did. I was constantly sneaking into the kitchen, learning as much as I could.”
But it was at unlikely moment at a private dinner party, however that would change his life. Prado had accepted a job as a companion for children of legendary actress Sophia Loren. One night when the famed beauty was expecting guests, the chef failed to arrive. Rising to the challenge, Prado quickly whipped up a mouth-watering meal. Among the sufficiently impressed guests were Lyon von Kersting and Richard Irving, who were soon opening up their new restaurant, The Ivy.
The couple asked Prado to come and work for them and the menu that he created for the iconic Los Angeles eatery largely remains in tact today. Prado’s food quickly became a celebrity favorite. John Travolta, than up and coming young star, would pick up breakfast from Prado every morning before heading off to the studio.
At The Ivy, Prado introduced Cajun and Creaole seasons, tropical fruits and cooking techniques from South America and the Caribbean that had largely been unknown in the United States at the time.
Children and family responsibilities forced Prado’s desire to captain his own ship. With the help of partner Mario Tamayo, the first Cha Cha Cha restaurant was opened in the bohemian neighborhood or Silverlake in 1986. The Pan Caribbean food, décor and first-rate staff, quickly made it one of LA’s most unique and busy destination restaurants.
“We thought that we were opening a little place where Latinos could go, dress up, enjoy authentic food and have a good time,” says Prado. “Boy were we ever wrong!”
Twenty years later, the Prado family – three entrepreneurial nephews now run the business – continues to run thriving restaurants in Silverlake and West Hollywood, with expansion plans in other Los Angeles locations and Las Vegas. Cha Cha Cha continues to be so popular in fact, that TV phenomenon Rachel Ray just visited to do a segment for her hit Food Network series, “$40 A Day With Rachel Ray.” The city of Los Angeles even recently presented Prado with the keys to the city in recognition of his contribution to the city’s culture.
Prado, also an accomplished artist, is in the process of writing an upcoming cookbook and biography of his fascinating life. He continues to make various television appearances as the public face Cha Cha Cha.
He also makes sure that the business maintains the standards of quality and service that made the business so successful in the first place.
“We have worked so hard to create dishes that are intensely flavored and visually appealing,” Prady says. “But Cha Cha Cha is more than just the food – it's the total experience. I have come to value family above all else and when you are with us we are all la familia.”