Latina Leaders: Optometrist and philanthropist says if you don’t like your job, volunteer

Owner of AshramChic, Veronica Ruelas (center) with business partners – her sister, Jennifer Ruelas-Lauro (left) and Caroline Abramo (right) (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Owner of AshramChic, Veronica Ruelas (center) with business partners – her sister, Jennifer Ruelas-Lauro (left) and Caroline Abramo (right) (Photo/Kristina Puga)

For Veronica Ruelas, it was just a matter of seeing life through a different pair of glasses. She says she didn’t always love her job as an optometrist. It took her having an “Eat, Pray, Love”moment and deciding to study yoga in India, four years ago, which changed her perspective on her life and career.

Today, she is not only an optometrist at ArtSee Eyewear in New York City’s Financial District, she also founded Third Eye Vision – a sustainable clinic where international doctors can come to treat and provide training to the local hospital doctors and staff in an underdeveloped section of India. In order to run this clinic at no cost to patients, she started her own line of ashram clothing and accessories called AshramChic.

“I wasn’t happy with what I was doing for a living so I started googling ashrams,” says the 40-year-old New Yorker. “Before I knew it, I was on my way to an ashram in the Bahamas with a tent — the chicest tent I could find.”

The tall, half Dominican and half Puerto Rican-Mexican doctor, who grew up in a rural part of New York, seems to do everything with a natural sense of style and elegance.

“I wanted to make sure if I was having epiphanies, it’d be in a nice place,” says the fashionably colorful Ruelas.

She says four years ago, her yoga missions became her focus. She lived like a gypsy for about two and a half years, putting her belongings in storage and traveling from ashram to ashram. During this time, she learned the karmic yoga principle of giving back.

“As soon as I started volunteering is when I started falling in love with my career,” says Ruelas. “I had a renewed passion when I wasn’t getting paid for it.”

She says now, when she hears people complaining they don’t like their job, she tells them to start volunteering.

“Life is very fair that way,” she says. “It shows what you put out, you get back. It’s a very balanced equation.”

She says she originally chose the field of optometry as arbitrarily as she was choosing what dress to wear. The only thing she says she was sure of was she wanted to be a professional.

“To know what you want to do, you really have to know yourself,” says Ruelas who just now feels she is fulfilling her destiny.

During the last year and a half, she says she feels like she has finally made a home for herself in New York City.

“I wake up at about 5:30am, and I make hot water with lemon,” says Ruelas about her daily yoga morning ritual. “Then I meditate – sometimes only five minutes…I write in a diary the things I’m grateful for and then set my mantra for the day.”

Mantras such as, “I am fun,” and “I am patient,” is a central point to Ruelas’ life and business. Not only does she pick one for herself every day, she also includes them on the brightly-colored beaded bracelets she makes for Ashram Chic.

Most of the time she says she reminds herself to “Go slow.”

She says this is very important in keeping herself balanced while running her three companies.

“I talk to banking guys about meditation,” says Ruelas about the difference just taking 10 minutes to breathe slowly at your desk can make. “Now I realize when you pause, you get more done. You’re more focused.”

She says we also have so much to learn from our abuelitas.

“Abuelitas are the biggest karmic yogis,” says Ruelas. “They put their dreams aside for us…yoga in its highest form is giving back.”

She says when you start helping others, you don’t think about your problems anymore, and answers come.

“Don’t give up, follow your heart, and volunteer,” recommends Ruelas. “Go back to what you wanted to be when you were little. Do what you enjoy doing and help others do it…Show up, let go, and watch the outcome.”

Uttarkashi 2011 from ThirdEyeVision on Vimeo.

Originally published on

Peruvian chef has a full plate at new La Mar

Victoriano López, executive chef of La Mar Cebicheria Peruana (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Victoriano López, executive chef of La Mar Cebicheria Peruana (Photo/Kristina Puga)

“Don’t use those plates,” says Victoriano López, the executive chef of the recently opened La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, to one of his 20 line chefs, as he calmly reminds his new international team that they have new white plates from France and Germany.

“This is one of the details that differentiates us from La Mar in Lima,” the small-framed López says of the china.

Fans of Peruvian food have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of a Gastón Acurio restaurant in the city, so their hope is that not much else is different from the acclaimed original.

New York‘s La Mar opened two weeks ago in the high-ceilinged former home of Tabla at 11 Madison Ave.

Originally from the Ancash region of Peru, López says that he became aware of Acurio almost two decades ago while watching one of the first of his many TV cooking programs.

After being mesmerized by the variety of plates and ingredients and trying to learn the innovative Peruvian recipes he saw Acurio and his wife, Astrid, create on the tube, he went to the couple’s flagship restaurant in Lima, Astrid y Gastón, to meet his hero.

“He asked me how do you know me?” recalls López in his native Spanish. “He gave me a job as his assistant one week later. He has helped me so much – not only in learning about the kitchen, but like a father, because my parents didn’t have the economic means to help me. I am so grateful to him.”

Now López, 40, who never had formal culinary school training has been trusted with leading the kitchen at Acurio’s 29th restaurant worldwide – his first on the U.S. East Coast.

“The advice I can give Victoriano is to be himself,” Acurio said via e-mail of the chef he’s worked with for 17 years. “He has a big heart, talent, ability and overflows with modesty.”

López had to leave his family in Peru while their visas are processed, is living outside of his homeland for the first time and is working from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. – but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“We spend about 18 hours together every day,” laughs Luis Jaramillo, his Ecuadoran sous-chef, who was previously at One If by Land, Two If by Sea in the West Village. “I was always inspired by Gastón … but now I am inspired by Victoriano.”

López says he doesn’t have a favorite dish on the La Mar menu, where prices range from $12 to $39 for appetizers and entrées.

But eight of La Mar’s famous ceviches are on the menu, including Elegance, a lime-drenched and slightly spicy warm-water fluke with red onions, Peruvian corn and little yam balls, and Lopez’s specialty, Maine lobster grilled over corn husks and drowned in a tangy ceviche sauce.

While López waits for his wife and three school-age kids to join him in New York, he also dreams about opening his own restaurant one day.

“I teach the philosophy of Gastón, passion for the kitchen,” he says. “We have no secrets.”

Originally published in the NY Daily News.

Three chefs update Argentine fare at Azul

The new culinary team at Azul: Hernán Simesen (l.), head chef Nicolás López (c.) and Matías Romano

The new culinary team at Azul: Hernán Simesen (l.), head chef Nicolás López (c.) and Matías Romano (Photo/Erika Rojas)

For empanadas, skirt steak and the meat fiesta known as parrillada, there are plenty of options among the many reliable Argentine restaurants in the city.

But as any recent Buenos Aires traveler knows, the culinary offerings from the southern end of the Americas are much broader and diverse.

“I want to explain to Americans that Argentinean cuisine is a lot more than just parrillada and wine,” says Stefano Villa, the owner of Azul, a cozy restaurant with blue-washed brick walls at the corner of Stanton and Suffolk Sts. on the lower East Side.

Azul is marking its 10th anniversary by reinventing its once-traditional Argentine menu, bringing in other staples from the countryside – from wild boar to venison – and cooking them with a contemporary twist.

The revolution started one evening a year ago when a young man with long, dark curly hair and a multitude of questions came to have dinner with his girlfriend.

A few days later, the enigmatic diner, Nicolás López, returned with his résumé in hand. Only 27 and originally from Salta in northwestern Argentina, López already had almost a decade of cooking experience in South America. His last job had been as head chef in the restaurant of the Argentine embassy in CaracasVenezuela.

“I put him in charge very fast,” says Villa. “He does the job New York-style. He gives you no time to think.”

The Italian-born Villa, who also owns Industria Argentina and is a partner in Novecento, two other Argentine eateries, opened Azul in December 2001 after traveling in Argentina and falling in love with the country’s cuisine.

His new chef’s next move was to recruit two more chefs back home with fresh ideas for his revolution: A former cooking school classmate, Hernán Simesen, 27, also from Salta, who worked with chef Fernando Trocca at Sucre – a top-tier restaurant in Buenos Aires – and a friend of a friend, Matías Romano, 28, from Buenos Aires, who was mentored by an Argentinian TV cooking show personality, Juliana López May.

“The concept that the three of us have is to feel pride in Argentina,” says López, who finished putting his team together last month. “We simply work with our ideas mixed with the recipes of our aunts and grandmothers.”

The new chefs bring elements from all different parts of this area. There are red and blue potatoes and quinoa from the Andes and wild boar and venison from Patagonia. There’s also seafood, like sea bass from the Falkland Islands and South American king crab, known as centolla.

Dishes include López’s favorite: braised lamb tongue, rabbit confit served with an apple slaw, venison carpaccio and boar with quince sauce.

The restaurant has not only revamped its menu and website, but has been airing the Copa America soccer games and is participating in NYC Restaurant Week, both going on through July 24.

Despite all the changes, Villa says plenty of traditional beef remains on the menu, along with a a wide variety of Argentine wines.

“We are only adding recipes,” he explains.

Originally published in the NY Daily News.