If you’d asked Marcela Valladolid whether Zoom would have changed her life, she probably would have laughed at you. After a decade-and-a-half as a chef and star of cooking shows like Mexican Made Easy and The Kitchen, Valladolid was no stranger to high-quality production and the expectations of networks and audiences. Do Mexican food, but make it accessible. Be authentic, but not too authentic. Cut to the pandemic and Valladolid’s husband, Philip Button, suggested she go online. But, she worried, could it be up to the standards she was used to?
After shooting a pandemic episode with a skeleton crew for Selena Gomez’s cooking show, Selena + Chef, Valladolid realized making something with a small team in her own home was possible. She roped in her sister, Carina Valladolid, and they got a producer from Tijuana on board. And that was, in Valladolid’s words, how they decided to “do the thing.” Enter: Marcela and Carina Show. Carina stands in for the viewer who might not be as savvy in the kitchen, playing off Marcela’s expertise and bringing flair through costume competitions. “We balance each other out,” says Valladolid.
Crucial to the show’s success was the fact that Valladolid was already close with what she calls her familia, the community of cooks she stays connected to through social media. This isn’t just marketing speak, Valladolid is deeply committed to her hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers, who helped drive what she decided to cook on her show. “I based the classes on what they were asking for I would poll them constantly. Constantly!”
When HexClad sat down to speak with Marcela, she’d just wrapped up a special Christmas class featuring Pozole Verde de Pollo, Ensalada de Coditos (pasta salad), and Apple Crisp with Masapan Crumble, made with a Mexican peanut candy. “For this class,” she says, “I just asked, what do you want to learn? And I don’t know how many hundreds of people said pozole.” Valladolid goes beyond just getting the simple answer, though. She wanted to know exactly what her familia wanted to cook. Verde or rojo? The verdict was verde, and onto the menu it went.
Through doing these classes, Valladolid realized that this community, her familia, were asking for the kinds of recipes that she and they grew up with—traditional recipes that Valladolid hadn’t felt were what people were looking for throughout her career. It became clear that this went beyond food: people wanted Valladolid’s help in recreating their nostalgia.
Though people were telling Valladolid that the food was great, but what she heard just as often was that the dishes made people think of their mom or grandma, or of dishes they may have longed to recreate but didn’t have the recipe. People were hungry for this food and to see themselves and their stories valued. So, Valladolid collected the recipes in Familia: 125 Foolproof Mexican Recipes to Feed Your People.
In both the book and the classes, Valladolid has a mission that goes beyond food into representation and to giving her familia a voice. “There’s a large percentage of us Latinos that still feel we’re not represented properly in media, in press, in food,” says Valladolid. “I wanted to give people what we eat at home, to show the beautiful, sophisticated meals that happen around a gorgeous table.” Yes, Valladolid stresses, “The struggle is real, but I think people want something to aspire to. We’re Mexican American families that love to sit together, to eat beautiful food, to pay attention to our homes, and we want this part of ourselves to be represented.”
So, no. Valladolid didn’t think that classes taught on Zoom would have changed her life. But now, with this collection of recipes and the familia that gathers to cook with her, she can honestly say it has, and it’s probably not too far of a stretch to say it’s changed her familia’s life, too.
If you follow Valladolid on Instagram or take part in her cooking classes, then you’re likely to see a HexClad pan peeking out of most shots. Her kitchen real estate is sacred to her, so pans have to earn their keep. They’re like her minivan, she says. (Yes, her minivan.) “People make so much fun about me and my goddamn minivan,” she insists, laughing. “My sister was like, you’re not gonna get a minivan, that’s so not cool, that’s so not you. But I don’t give a s#*t, I’m getting a minivan.”
What, you might wonder, does a minivan have to do with a HexClad pan? “Well, it has this one feature where you can open and close the doors with just a button. And when you have small kids, that is life changing,” Valladolid says, insisting it's not so different with her HexClad pans. “I can do the quickest wipe with a paper towel to clean the pan out for the next task.” To the people who think it’s absurd to care that it’s just a simple wipe to get it clean, Valladolid thinks they don’t get it. “If you save those 30 seconds here and 30 seconds there, it’s one less pot to pull out. These little things add up to a more comfortable experience in the kitchen.” In her busy house, Valladolid cooks for seven or more people daily, so she knows that for busy cooks, every second counts.