Diana Villa

Diana Villa takes a photo with “Rosca de Reyes,” a Mexican dessert she helped make during culinary school at Vizcaya University of the Americas.

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Diana Villa, head chef at the Delaware Hotel’s new Mineral Restaurant and Bar, is cooking up hearty breakfast dishes and advancing her culinary career in Leadville.

Villa is originally from Sonora, Mexico, where she attended culinary school at Vizcaya University of the Americas.

Growing up, she spent a lot of time with her grandparents and extended family. She lived with her mother, who always worked hard to give her and her brother a good life, she said.

Villa’s mother later married a man who became a father figure to Villa, and they had three children together. “My siblings are the best and what I love the most in life,” said Villa, adding that they plan to visit her in Leadville soon.

Villa was inspired to start cooking as a child when she saw her aunt indulge the kids in her family with whatever they wanted to eat each day.

Her favorite food as a child was spaghetti bolognese, but all kids like spaghetti, she joked. Today one of her favorites is chili with shrimp.

One of Villa’s first restaurant experiences was at Mission 19, an upscale restaurant in Tijuana. During her time there, she had the opportunity to cook with noteworthy chef Javier Plascencia.

Villa likes to cook because it helps her forget about other things going on in life. Although it can be frustrating when things don’t work out, cooking brings her inspiration and happiness.

Working at Mision 19 was a great experience. Despite her fears and insecurities initially, she eventually learned to keep up at the prestigious restaurant and enjoyed cooking with Plascencia. “He is a great chef and a great human being who likes to share and teach,” Villa said.  

Although she felt comfortable at Mission 19, it was difficult for Villa to be away from family at times. One afternoon, Villa got a call from her father informing her that her grandfather had passed away, but she couldn’t go home.

Villa persevered in Mexico despite the loss and graduated from culinary school. She then went on to work for a catering company. Her last job in Mexico was at a cafe called Caffenio.

Around five years ago, a friend invited her to move to Leadville. She had just been rejected from a restaurant job and was looking for a new opportunity.

“It was the best! It has changed my life a lot,” Villa said of moving to Leadville. “I’ve surpassed my own expectations of what I’m capable of doing and I’m very happy with that. My family has been a fundamental part of my being here, with all their support and love from a distance.”

After moving to Leadville, Villa found a job at Casa Sanchez, where she worked for four summers. She also worked at Carlos Miguel’s Mexican Bar in Frisco but had to leave because of schedule conflicts and transportation challenges.

Earlier this year, Villa brought her culinary skills to Mineral Restaurant and Bar. She heard about the job from a friend who already worked at the hotel. He said the boss, David Chrisman, was great and it could be a good opportunity for Villa.  

She took the plunge and applied because she thought it would give her more confidence in her culinary skills and provide more learning experiences.

As part of the hiring process, Villa was tasked with making various test meals from scratch, without specific guidance from a recipe. A quiche and poached eggs with hollandaise sauce were among her creations.  

Her next challenge was designing the presentation for each meal on Mineral’s breakfast menu. Villa applied her expertise acquired in culinary school and nailed the challenge, earning her the role.

Chrisman, a restaurateur of many years, is pushing Villa to do her best and is teaching her various cooking and presentation techniques. After a lot of perseverance, Villa has mastered the menu and knows each dish by heart. Now, she is training the rest of the staff to do the same.

The breakfast menu at Mineral includes chicken and waffles, breakfast burritos and the Leadville 100, a maple buttered hash brown skillet bowl.

So far, Villa’s favorite meal on the menu is “The Miner,” which consists of biscuits and gravy with two eggs and a side of hash browns. “It’s filling and has a salty and sweet balance,” said Villa.

As she warms up to a new role, Villa recognizes that she has transformed from being shy in the workplace to running an entire kitchen. She emphasizes collaboration within her staff and shares everything she’s learned with her coworkers.

Looking forward, Villa hopes to stay with the team at Mineral and continue learning from Chrisman, aiming to satisfy customers in town and create a good reputation for the young restaurant.  

Eventually, Villa dreams of starting her own restaurant back in Mexico, probably a breakfast diner similar to Mineral. Villa said breakfast restaurants are the best way to bring families together and she hopes to do exactly that at Mineral.

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