Chef Marcela Valladolid uses her platform to amplify Mexican culture and cuisine, but she said in a recent interview that she didn’t always feel comfortable speaking up at Food Network.
In a candid interview, the former Food Network star, 43, told Parents Latina magazine that, after growing up in Tijuana, it became her “mission” to show the world the beauty of her country.
“When I was growing up, my family lived in Tijuana, where everyone was so proud of who they were, and being Mexican was the coolest thing,” Villadolid said. “But I also spent half of my day across the border at school in San Diego, where things were very different. It was crazy to me that my friends there had this stereotypical view of Mexico.”
“Then they would visit our home in Tijuana and say, ‘Oh my God, this is actually really beautiful. This is not like Taco Bell!’” Valladolid continued. “And so that became my mission — to show what we’ve got and all that Latinos contribute.”
While Valladolid is now speaking openly about that goal, she told Parents Latina that she felt she had to “temper” her approach when dealing with higher-ups at the Food Network. In 2017, Valladolid left her job as the co-host of “The Kitchen.”
“When you’re with executives from the most powerful network on culinary TV, you don’t think you can fight back on anything,” said Valladolid, adding that she takes “full responsibility” for the decisions she made during this period in her career. “It took me a really long time to find my voice. I have nothing but gratitude for that relationship, but there are life cycles to jobs. I wanted freedom to do things my way. So one day I said, ‘Thank you so much, but no thank you,’ and that was it.”
While at Food Network, Valladolid used the shows she hosted, like “Mexican Made Easy,” to showcase her country’s cuisine. Now, she’s hosting virtual cooking classes hosted with her sister Carina. The pair started the project during the pandemic, and now, they’ve become a place to “relax into teaching” and share Mexican culture and food with a wide audience.
“For me, being Mexican is the best thing you could ever be in the world,” Valladolid said. “How great to be able to celebrate our heritage in the most fun, loud and incredible way … Mexican culture is a bottomless Mary Poppins bag that you can pull magical things out of. My goal has always been to show that.”
Valladolid said she always felt buoyed by the support of other Latinos during her career.
“I was at a signing for my 2017 book, ‘Casa Marcela,’ and nearly 600 people, mostly Latinas, showed up. They thanked me for providing this space that feels authentic, away from stereotypes,” Valladolid recalled. “They were saying, ‘Your pride in your culture inspired me to be proud.’ I got so many messages that snowballed into everything that’s happening now. And the feedback is still the same: ‘How nice for us to be represented as Latinos in a way that’s approachable and that recognizes our power and strength as a community.’”
Even when she’s not hosting classes or writing cookbooks, Valladolid said she and her family are always immersed in Mexican culture. Valladolid and her fiancé live in California with her three children.
“We’re fortunate that we live right on the border,” she said. “My dad’s house is 20 minutes away in Tijuana. (My daughter) Anna spent half her time there the other day and spoke Spanish because literally nobody is going to speak English to her. So I’m not trying to instill Mexican culture in my kids. We’re living in it because we love it. We have to hire a mariachi band for big family gatherings. We have to eat tamales at Christmastime. Not because we’re trying to show anybody anything, but because it’s a part of who we are.”