In Colombiana (Harper Wave, June.), chef and food stylist Mariana Velásquez shares the rich history and recipes of her native Colombia.
What inspired you to write such a deeply personal cookbook?
After 22 years as a professional cook, primarily in New York and California, I felt it was time to circle back to write about my cooking roots. In Colombia, the table is the center of the home. It was time to pay tribute to the nuances that made me the cook I am.
Where do you see Colombian cooking on a world stage?
I believe that Colombian cuisine is slowly emerging on a global level. There is currently a group of young chefs who are researching the country’s heritage and ingredients, looking inward to tell the story of Colombian cooking. There’s a new appreciation for the country’s cuisine and culture, and I see it following the same path to recognition as Mexican cooking.
You’ve said that your career has been shaped by your homeland and living in the U.S. How so?
The Colombian influence on my cooking is really my style: loose, using fresh, colorful ingredients, serving family style with abundance. The American influence comes through as discipline, researching ingredients, documenting recipes.
What advice would you give to those making Colombian food for the first time?
Colombian food tends to be very simple countryside food really, with tougher cuts of meat, so most meals lend themselves to a pressure cooker. My best advice is: don’t be afraid to braise and roast.
How did you get started in food styling?
I always loved the visual part of food and the beauty of cookbooks and magazines. My cooking career slowly took me where I wanted to go, and I had the privilege of working with chefs who had an eye for setting the scene in a very nonchalant way. I was doing recipe testing for Saveur when a photographer recommended I try food styling. I assisted other food stylists first, then went on to develop my own career.
How did you come to work with former first lady Michelle Obama on her book American Grown?
The photographer on the project recommended me as a stylist, and I was ultimately chosen to work on the book’s interior. I was able to collaborate with Mrs. Obama—who was so real and genuine—as well as with White House chefs. It was surreal.