How a chef from Mexico started her own catering company
(Somerville Wire) – Estela Calzada has been cooking for all of her life. Having immigrated from Mexico, she brings the flavors, fragrances, and traditions of her homeland to every meal that she prepares. Calzada has been involved in pop-ups at the Somerville Arts Council’s Nibble Kitchen at Bow Market, but she also recently started her own catering company, Doña Estela. Her son Eli Lopez has provided a translation of her story here, where she narrates how she came to find a place in Somerville’s culinary world.
How did you first become a chef?
It has been a lifelong journey. I got started by being the household chef cooking for my siblings and children, eventually operating a kitchen in Mexico. Then I migrated to the United States and brought to life Tu Y Yo, a Mexican restaurant, by Powder House.
How did you learn to cook, and why do you believe cooking is an art?
I learned to cook through the generations before me, from my grandma and mom. I believe cooking Pre-Hispanic Aztec food is an art because it has the same requirements as any distinguished painting; patience, creativity and a ton of love! Food has to contain color, a great smell, and most importantly, amazing flavors with rich history.
You originally hail from Mexico. What is your story of coming to the United States?
I lived a wonderful life in Mexico; however, I had to come to the aid of an ill brother that was, at the time, living here in the United States. It was supposed to be a sort of vacation from my everyday life. Through divine intervention, a close friend recommended I talk to the owners of Tu y Yo and they ended up hiring me to make tamales, my specialty. At that time no one around the greater Boston Area had any idea what tamales are or how wonderful they taste.
What are some of your favorite dishes, and what is the story behind their preparation?
My favorite and most unique dish is the mole. I have perfected the recipe, and as far as I know, I am the only person in the region who hand prepares mole from scratch. Most restaurants use a pre-packaged industrial paste that gets ingredients added. For me, mole is one of the most ancestral dishes that uses century old techniques, such as using a Metate and over 40 individual ingredients. I wanted to keep the same love, energy and preparation as my ancestors. Mole is mainly prepared for extremely important life events. It usually takes me a full day for the preparation.
What has your work for Nibble Kitchen been like? Do you still do pop-ups there, and what has your involvement been?
Nibble was the fruition of yet another divine intervention. During a language exchange, people wanted to learn Spanish and I was trying to learn English, and I met Nibble’s director. Our friendship evolved to what we know now as Nibble Kitchen. Through my expertise and working closely with Nibble’s director, we wanted to experiment with how well Mexican food sells. At the very start of Nibble, we started doing pop-ups and selling food during various events in Somerville such as the Fire Festival and Fluff Festival.
I haven’t done much with Nibble as of recently. I try to keep my involvement in memorable events, such as El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Death), Cinco de Mayo, and Mexican Independence Day.
When did you open your catering business, Doña Estela, and could you tell us a bit about what it has been like to run it?
I first began Doña Estela 12 years ago. I wanted to shine light on the Pre-Hispanic Aztec food and ingredients, some might call it the real authentic Mexican food. My main clientele have been people who appreciate the rich history of Mexico through food. We work on events for the universities around the Boston area: Harvard, MIT, UMASS Boston, and many more. I recently did an interview with the Mexican Consulate, sharing my story. If you’d like to watch, click on the link below.
If anyone would like to order food, please contact Calzada, using the information below:
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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.