Chef Marcela Villadolid of the Food Network’s Mexican Made Easy stopped by Room and Board this month for a signing of her new cookbook Casa Marcela.
Marcela Villadolid’s career began when she joined the staff of Bon Appétit magazine as an editor and recipe stylist. Her first cooking show was Relatos con Sabor on the Discovery Channel en Español. The Food Network’s Mexican Made Easy debuted in January 2010. Here, the chef and entrepreneur chats with us about her new cookbook, her inspiration for becoming a chef and the one recipe she could eat every day for the rest of her life.
What originally inspired you to become a chef? Marcela Villadolid: My aunt Marcela! We share the same name. She’s also a classically trained chef. I was actually a student of architecture at the time and she needed a kitchen assistant for her cooking classes that she did in Tijuana in Mexico. I worked with her for one summer and dropped out of architecture school and ended up going to culinary school.
Why did you decide to write a book of recipes and include stories from your life? What is your favorite recipe in the book? MV: I wanted to write a book because like the title mentions, Casa Marcela, I wanted it to actually feel like you were inside my home, especially in times like now where the immigrant community is part of a national debate. I wanted to kind of have a picture where people can not only see the food but how we live on this side of the border, how we preserve our traditions. I like to show how I cook for my family with the recipes I grew up and the ingredients I’ve found on this side of the border. That was the reason I was really excited about writing this book. Fortunately, my publisher was on the same page and they were okay with me saying listen, I don’t want to do a studio, I want it to be shot in my house cooking in real time using the actual props in my house with my family, my friends, my kids, my garden, my dogs. I just wanted it to be a true account of what it is to spend a couple of weeks in my house. I have many favorite recipes, if you look up the #CasaMarcela hashtag on Instagram you’ll see a whole bunch of people are cooking from the book which is a tremendous honor. You’ll see a lot of repeats of the jalapeño roast chicken, that’s been the most popular recipe I think. The poblano rings are also my favorite.
If you could have one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? MV: That’s so easy because I eat it all the time. Last night I went and found it in Chicago — a rack of lamb. It’s not Mexican, I completely get it, but I am a lamb rack-obsessed human.
Can you share some advice with us on how to make entertaining easy? MV: Focus on a couple of important things — really good and easy food, a good, specialty cocktail mixed drink, good lighting, and good music. In terms of the food, don’t choose an entertaining situation to try out a recipe. Go with what you have in your arsenal of recipes, choose something you’re super comfortable with. Some people get super excited and want to try a brand new recipe. If you’re going to be that brave, try the recipe once before with your family. Try to plan your evening out, be a little OCD like me. Begin prep early and get as much done as you can. I do cheese platters, I put stuff in the oven, I clean my greens for salad and leave everything ready to roll. My relaxing time is when I go take a shower, blow dry my hair, get dressed, put on some makeup. That’s my chill time. When I go into the kitchen it’s basically putting together the pieces of the puzzle that are already kind of there. The most important thing in entertaining is your attitude. You’ll set the tone as a host. If you’re at a party and the host is acting kind of crappy, what do you do? You go home because you feel weird. If you’re relaxed and confident and your food is ready and if you’re chill, your guests will be chill.
What do you think it is about summer that makes people want to entertain? MV: I think it’s the warm weather. Margarita time, yay! I think it’s this yearning to get back outside after being inside for the winter. For the most part, I think it gets people excited about going outside and being outside with their friends and families. Summer is just something you associate with celebration, leisure, relaxing, day drinking and hanging out with friends.
What’s next for you this year? MV: I have so many different things. I’m in the process of developing a line of products that will take the Casa Marcela lifestyle I talk a little bit about in the book, in terms of décor. I’ll be jumping into the home design arena a bit, we’re not sure exactly what the items are but we’re thinking about tabletop and interior design and decorations and cushions and things like that. I’m also working on doing many more digital things. We’re working on turning my book into a digital series in Spanish first. I just got back into developing my food line again.
What are your favorite places to eat and drink in D.C.? MV: I’ve only been a couple times. I’m a Good Stuff Eatery fanatic. I love Spike dearly. That’s honestly the only place I’ve eaten in D.C., so Spike has no competition as of now.