Kia Cooks

Lalito Has a New Chef — and She’s Ready to Make a Name for Herself

Grub Street

Kia Damon’s head scarf is illustrated with pictures of Lisa Simpson, a basketball, and a palm tree. “BLACK LIVES MATTER” is tattooed on her right bicep, and her Instagram bio is a reference to the Nina Simone song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” The 24-year-old moved from Tallahassee, Florida, to New York this summer to work as the sous-chef at Lalito, the Cali-Latin spot on Bayard Street that’s known in equal measure for its vegan chicharrónes and its Jennifer Lopez–themed restroom. Damon, who goes by Kia Cooks, first learned about the restaurant while flipping through a food magazine at a Publix in Florida. Now, just a few months after arriving, she’s the restaurant’s new head chef — and is slowly easing into the new job by pulling double shifts, trying to find a new sous-chef of her own, and putting together her first solo menu.