Food Network competitor starts a restaurant during pandemic
Currently on ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ San Diego chef Lauren Lawless has overcome adversity to become a culinary entrepreneur
It was a stroke of luck to be born with a name that rhymes with flawless — especially when you choose the profession of chef.
Lauren Lawless has parlayed her name into a catering business (Flawless Cuisine), blog, cookbook by that title, food truck and, most recently, an Escondido restaurant that also incorporates her signature adjective: Flawless Bistro & Bar.
Today her resumé is on steroids, and she is cooking up a whirlwind.
But it wasn’t always that way. The petite 5'3", 125-pound dynamo has been overcoming odds and hungry for success most of her 32 years. And a tough upbringing it has been. She tells of being bullied and abused by her parents, both of whom became alcoholics whose arguments evolved into physical battles.
Lawless was only 10 when her mother, an ex-deputy sheriff who suffered from mental illness, murdered Lawless’s father early one morning in their home.
Several years later, after being released from prison, her mother attempted suicide and Lawless saved her life. At age 16, Lawless quit school to marry her boyfriend, who became domineering and abusive.
At an early age Lawless escaped to the kitchen, where she forgot her problems and her mother, aunt and grandmother taught her how to cook family recipes. The kitchen became her refuge, her happy zone.
“Food brings people together. It creates memories. It saved me and helped me zone out of whatever else was happening in my life,” she says.
It wasn’t until 2017 that, on a whim, Lawless, a divorced mother with a young daughter, quit her sales job to take a shot at her dream — competing on Season 8 of “MasterChef.” She was eliminated before making the top 20 finalists, but she never looked back.
She created a new career as a private chef, caterer and cooking class instructor.
“I was willing to take a risk,” Lawless explains. “I’m very competitive. I work hard, and I’m very passionate about what I do.” That mindset surely helps explain why she started her first restaurant in the middle of a pandemic.
In January, she opened Flawless Bistro & Bar at Boulder Oaks Golf Club. Its menu is a lazy Susan of American comfort food with an upscale twist — crabcake Benedict and bagel and lox flatbread with fried capers and truffle oil-smoked salmon.
The golf course remained open during the lockdown. So Lawless reasoned that, with as many as 1,500 golfers a week, her bistro had a built-in audience.
“I opened three businesses during COVID-19,” she says, referring to her fine dining food truck, her catering business and now her bistro. That took courage.
“I had never owned and operated a restaurant,” she notes. “I had to hire staff and buy furnishings and equipment.” She admits that, as a single mom supporting two children, it was scary to invest her life savings in a new business during the pandemic. She even put in her $10,000 prize money from winning Food Network’s 2020 Supermaket Stakeout show, in which ingredients are taken from a random shopper’s grocery cart and used to concoct a judge-worthy dish.
“I know my food is good,” reasons the self-trained chef. “And I know, if I build it, people will come.”
She was a contestant on celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” TV series this season where she made it through the eighth episode before elimination. The next-to-last segment of the competition airs at 8 p.m. tonight on Fox, and she re-appears as a hand-picked team member of one of the two finalists. On April 22, she is staging a viewing party at Flawless Bistro for the show finale.
Next on her plate is the opening of her second eatery, BITE by Chef Lawless, an offering of exotic fusion tapas in Escondido’s Jacked Up brewery.
She’ll serve beer-infused dishes, shrimp corn dogs, fried chicken deviled eggs, mussels with chorizo, Korean chicken rings, duck fat fries and other edibles with live music and axe throwing for entertainment.
By the end of the year, she hopes to open a third restaurant in Oceanside, followed next year by Flawless Steakhouse in downtown San Diego, bearing her signature colors — gold floors and pink walls.
Next month she plans to film a new TV show competition in L.A. and is planning to publish a second cookbook next year. Oh, and did I mention that she has designed a soon-to-be-released apparel line for female chefs and has three everyday-use kitchen inventions in the works?
Lawless says she has a sense for what flavors work well together and confesses that a lot of her recipe inspiration comes in her sleep when she routinely dreams about food.
As the word play on her name, Flawless Lawless, shows, this ambitious chef has no shortage of chutzpah and self-confidence.
“Failure is not an option,” Lawless asserts.
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