What’s in Chef Marcela’s ‘secret sauce’?
Celebrated chef, author, and the Food Network’s first Latina star shares elements of her recipe for success, including how her Mexican culture and heritage are infused in everything she dishes up.
When Chef Marcela Valladolid was experiencing an early taste of fame, not long after completing the first season of “Mexican Made Easy” for the Food Network in 2010 and her third cookbook of Casa Marcela in 2017, she had an experience that would flavor her career for years to come. At a San Diego book-signing event, some of the hundreds of people in attendance tearfully approached her to thank her for her positive messages about her Mexican heritage, which Valladolid often mentions in her TV appearances and on social media.
“Some told me they felt like they had to hide who they were, or even feared being persecuted,” she said. “And I had this mind-blowing moment where I realized I had kind of grown up in this bubble, with my incredibly proud Mexican parents in an incredibly proud Mexican community.” Valladolid is from the multicultural, multilingual, multinational cross-border region including San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico.
“I have so much pride in who I am and where I come from, where my family is, who my ancestors are. I can be fully American and fully be Mexican and be 100% authentic in either of those roles,” she said. “And I think it is essential for those of us who are blessed with a platform to showcase that pride in who we are, so that other people are inspired to do the same.”
Valladolid shared some of the essential ingredients in her recipe for success:
Although culinary prowess is at the core of the Casa Marcela enterprise, Valladolid also conducts business as a product developer. She recently participated in the Wells Fargo-sponsored Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative and took part in conversations with other entrepreneurs about removing deep-seated mindsets that can limit success.
“For some Latina women, we see ourselves as the CEOs of our households, and we only allow ourselves that role,” Valladolid said. “I’ve talked to people who do not feel they can speak freely about how important it is to grow a business, or see a profit. It’s so ingrained in many of us that we serve, and we give, and we sacrifice … it can make women afraid to jump into the business world.
“It is important that we make that cultural shift and realize that women are totally able to run companies and grow businesses and still be really good moms. So that thinking shouldn’t stop us from going full force.”
Valladolid advises other creators she works with to ask for help with aspects of business that may be outside of their sweet spot.
“My business brings the most beautiful and high-quality artisanal products from Mexico and offers them to my following here on the U.S. side of the border. I want to educate consumers on what Mexico brings to the world from an artisanal and culinary perspective,” Valladolid said.
“Often artisans and producers are mostly focused on creating more products. I tell them to remember to also invest in their company by investing in any knowledge that is needed. The most important thing that you get to do as a business owner is to have the humility to admit what you do not know, so you can then find the right resources to grow or scale your company.”
Even as a television personality, Valladolid faced adversity during the pandemic when production and partnerships shut down.
“I definitely understand that moment when you’re literally in shock. I think a lot of us literally froze when the world shut down,” Valladolid said. “But it’s important to take that moment to really analyze what is going on, and really be willing to pivot and throw yourself in a different direction. It’s about having the courage to put yourself in perhaps a new line of business or on a new platform, which is what we did with both the (online) cooking classes and the product lines.”
Valladolid’s aunt opened up one of the first culinary schools in Mexico, and Valladolid’s career began with her studies there. In her most recent venture, The Marcela and Carina show, she co-hosts online cooking classes with her sister. A key ingredient in all she does, she says, is the importance she places on family.
“When we are doing (cooking) classes, it’s about bringing families together … reliving events, storytelling, flavors, aromas, feelings, emotions, and all of that is centered around family, family memories, and family history.
“I see my family-centric culture as a superpower,” Valladolid said. “If you are able to tap into part of yourself, and be proud of that part of yourself, and manage to find solutions within that aspect, you could have a winning formula. That’s what’s happening for me.”