HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Perched atop the Hollywood Hills, the historic Yamashiro has become a staple restaurant in Los Angeles. It is iconic for many reasons and now there’s one more. Chef Vallerie Castillo-Archer was named the first woman executive chef in the restaurant’s 100-year history.
“You can say it’s a dream. We used to come all the time. I was always in awe,” Castillo-Archer said.
Her story leading to this accomplished position is just as iconic. Castillo-Archer went to culinary school, but then chose to be a stay-at- home mom for her kids. She still fulfilled her passion by catering and cooking for events on the side. Now that her children are older, she thought it was time to work in a restaurant.
“We are always in the kitchen. It’s always some kind of fiesta. I love to watch people’s reactions when you present them the food. So, it’s like I’m welcoming people to my house and entertaining. It’s like a party every day,” Castillo-Archer said.
Castillo-Archer first became the executive pastry chef at Yamashiro and less than a year later was named executive chef of the entire restaurant during a pandemic.
“I’m nervous every day. It’s still a lot of pressure. The chefs before me were acclaimed chefs. They worked in the industry longer than I have. They were all male. Filling their shoes, I have the butterflies,” said Castillo-Archer.
She never dreamed this would be her path, but she is taking full advantage. Along with the legendary sushi, Castillo-Archer added her own recipes to the menu. She was born in the Philippines. In her grandfather’s bakery, she was always surrounded by food. So, she is bringing her Filipino flavor in the ribs made with ginger, soy and lemon.
“I’m actually honoring my grandparents," Castillo-Archer said. "It reminds me all the time that this is what I was meant to do. I am happy it is selling and I am just happy that I can share this experience with everybody.”
Walking through the restaurant with its beautiful Japanese architecture, you could almost get lost. Yamashiro is not only known for its food but for the atmosphere, view and romance that Castillo-Archer knows well. She actually went on her first date with her husband here 20 years ago.
“I know we should put a heart here, right,” she said, pointing to the table where they sat.
Castillo-Archer and her family have been celebrating anniversaries and birthdays at Yamashiro ever since, which now seems like a full-circle moment. She still cannot believe it is real, but says she is honored and blessed every day.
"To run it and to be the head chef, sometimes I think it’s still a dream, that this is not happening," Castillo-Archer said. "This must be a dream that I don’t want to wake up. It’s like every day is my first day.”
From rubbing elbows with Hollywood’s elite, to meeting all the new Filipino diners that now come to see her, she is taking it all in and wants to serve the best at Yamashiro.