Interview with Estela Calzada as told and translated by Maria Fernanda Martínez.
What’s a brief overview of what you do?
I’m a home cook and I love my culinary roots from Mexico. I consider cooking an expression of art because food can transmit a message about your culture. In my case, I share my pre-hispanic Mexican culture through dishes that include ingredients like, nopales, huitlacoche, and corn. I teach the different ways to cook with these ingredients.
When I cook, I enjoy not only choosing diverse and colorful ingredients to create an attractive dish, but also sharing the story behind those ingredients. For instance, mole, from Nahuatl molli means sauce, and it is a traditional dish in Mexico. There are many different types of Mole, but my recipe includes over 40 ingredients, including turkey, various nuts and seeds, and locally produced chocolate. Applying traditional techniques to make the right combination of ingredients is labor intensive and takes a certain level of dedication to do well. This is why I believe cooking is an art!
As part of Somerville Arts Council program, I’ve participated in festivals and pop-ups sharing my food, my culture, and all the benefits that the prehispanic ingredients have. The nopal water is one of my favorites, it’s really healthy and fresh. I’ve also taught cooking classes about how to cook nopales, tamales, mole, chilaquiles, and chiles en nogada from scratch! These Mexican traditional dishes are hard to find in restaurants, and there is an appreciation in Somerville to learn the authentic way to do it with a real home-made flavor. In addition, I also cook for different Mexican student groups who enjoy eating authentic pre-hispanic food.
Is there anything new you’re working on, or an event that’s coming up?
I’m compiling all my recipes. They are authentic Mexican recipes and have my unique touch. I’d like to organize some cooking demonstration or have a book in Spanish to include the recipes along with my personal stories about how a Mexican family eats on a regular basis. I have six children, and I’d like to explain that even though we eat meat, we eat a lot of vegetarian dishes as well. In Mexico a complete meal always has a portion of vegetables.
In addition, on May 5th, I will bring Mexican cooking utensils to Union Square for the Arts Council's Cultural Cinco de Mayo celebration. I think is a good opportunity to show what petate and cazuela are.
What do you enjoy most about cooking and teaching classes? What’s something you get out of it?
I like to share my culinary knowledge and the part of myself that is an enthusiastic home cook. It’s very rewarding to find people interested in my food, and also to share the stories behind that food.
At the beginning of our cooking classes, participants usually show curiosity about ingredients like nopales or huitlacoche, and sometimes they are not sure if they want to try them. As the class goes on and they learn about the history of the food, they interact with the ingredients, and smell the aromas as the food is cooked, then their feelings change and they are more excited to try the final product. It makes me happy to see their faces when they finally taste my food for the first time. They love it! And that gives me more desire to keep teaching.
What got you involved in doing what you do? Is there someone or something that was important in getting you on your way?
It all started at Intercambio, the Somerville Arts Council language program, where I was practicing my English and helping others to practice Spanish. One day we talked about food. My partner loves to cook, and when I told her that I was a cook she got very excited, she wanted to know more about my recipes. I cooked taquitos dorados for the intercambio class and they loved it! Then the idea to teach a Mexican cooking class was born, and since then I have shared Mexican recipes in SAC festivals and cooking classes. The Nibble program has offered me the opportunity to share my food and my culture.
Any thoughts on the local Somerville, or Boston-area creative/arts/food scene?
I’ve found that the Somerville community is interested in food with a cultural background. For me, it is a pleasure to share about the culinary arts from the Mexican pre-hispanic culture.
In addition, check out beautiful photo portrait sessions of Estella by Jaclyn Tyler Poeschl | Photographer