Rocio Carvajal is a Mexican food history writer, food stylist and photographer and podcaster. She believes there is no better way to explore a culture than through its gastronomic heritage, as it gives fascinating insights into the history, preferences and customs of each part of the world, which is why Rocio is passionate about sharing Mexico’s gastronomic traditions which she considers to be an infinite source of inspiration, knowledge and pleasure.
Her interest in humanities drove her to study medieval history, cultural management, communications, and a masters in international aid for development, as well as the Montessori method, she is a true lifelong learner. Her career has gone from education to the museum sector and managing projects for the conservation of architectural heritage in Mexico.
After deciding to change her path and pursue her passion for food studies and Mexican gastronomy she became a self taught baker and even ran her own microbakery and started a series of food related blogs. After being invited to co-author a book about food and identity funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of England, this put her on the fast track to define her own business called Pass the Chipotle, running supper clubs, offering her services as food photographer and stylist, she has been invited as public speaker on international events talking about Mexican gastronomy.
She is also the producer and writer of Pass the Chipotle, a show described by the news outlet Latinas in Media as one of the 5 podcasts by Latinas you don’t want to miss. She is the creator of SABOR! this is Mexican Food Magazine and the upcoming book Rocio Carvajal’s amazing Mexican market food.
What was your best/favorite subject in school?
I was always drawn to history and social sciences for as far as I can remember, which I suppose that’s what lead me to study Medieval history and eventually specialize in gastronomic history. I find that there is much to be learned from the way cultures memorialize their historical narratives and allows us to understand how that has shaped our world-views.
What was your first job?
I started working very young, at the age of 16 I took a sort of apprenticeship as headteacher’s assistant at a Montessori school, before I was 18 I had already started teaching English as a second language to children and by the time I started college I was already a part-time teacher of creative writing and history teaching children age 8-12, that cemented my passion for making knowledge into something meaningful and transformative.
Where and how did you first get into the industry you currently work in?
I joined one of Mexico’s most prominent private cultural charity after graduating from a masters in international aid for development and my work consisted in creating events and exhibitions about architectural heritage and conservation, that was when I saw a real impact in the way that preserving and promoting awareness about heritage can impact communities. Dignifying their legacy makes them feel empowered and validated and that translates to a better quality of life and larger aspirations.
I was always drawn to intangible heritage, particularly gastronomy and when I realised that it was this field that would allow me to expand professionally and channel my interests I transitioned my career to become a food history writer and producer of Pass the Chipotle Podcast as well as offering traditional Mexican food supper clubs and private catering in the UK as well as authoring SABOR! this is Mexican food and co authoring other food related books in the UK.
How have those jobs prepared you for what you do now?
I am a firm believer in the value of cultivating as many skills and acquiring knowledge to further your career, for years I also combined my work developing products for a travel agency specialized in rural tourism and immersive cultural experiences, that was key to help me understand the impact of human connections and transformative experiences. My work in education with children and later on training teachers helped me know and understand the emotional and intellectual needs we experience in our lives and how to fulfill them. My work in cultural planning and management was fundamental in learning the ropes of working with complex teams and creating synergies with local governments, industries, academia and diplomatic missions. I have from all of that to navigate through different environments and partner up with creative people from all over the world.
Describe the best day of work you’ve ever had.
Like, everybody, I’ve had many awful days and many great days, but I remember years ago when I delivered my first food tour. After months researching, documenting and curating an immersive experience exploring the historical events and foods that have shaped the cuisine of Puebla, Mexico I felt incredibly humbled and proud for having the chance to change perceptions and appreciation for Mexican food, needless to say, that my clients were effectively full and equally thankful for the experience.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
It is easy to lose perspective of your progress and learn to iterate and adapt as quickly as possible, which is why I really like listening to thought-provoking podcasts like The Innovation Ecosystem Podcast, BBC’s In our time, Freakonomics Radio, and Hidden Brain among many others, learning from other perspectives and the way successful and creative people solve problems keeps me fresh and aware of all the possibilities to grow. Networking via my show is always refreshing and rewarding as being a digital entrepreneur can be very isolating.
What kind of business ideas excite you most?
I find it slightly embarrassing that I don’t have a great business oriented mindset as I tend to place the value of projects on the impact they have, so creating mutually beneficial partnerships that allow me exchange experiences and learn from others is very exciting.
My latest contract as a food stylist and photographer required me to work with immigrant cooks from all over the world living in London. I knew that my work would help them promote their businesses, but also that this will inspire and empower others to believe in themselves and dare following their dreams.
Have you ever tried any unorthodox techniques to attract attention to your business?
I have recently decided to start blogging about the behind the scenes process of my upcoming book Amazing Mexican Market Food. While many authors, myself included tend to restrict the access of the production of a book for all sorts of reasons I decided to disrupt myself and open up about all the things that need to happen in order to get a book out in the world. There is no way that out of the blue you can honestly convince someone about the quality of your work and by showing -not telling-, I want to create awareness of the hard work, dedication and passion poured into creating something. It is early days so time will tell if it works.
What personal achievement are you most proud of?
I really struggle with the idea of taking absolute credit for any given project, there’s always someone giving you tools, cheering you up and believing in you but I am incredibly thankful that my work landed me two invitations from the Arts and Research Council of England to be featured in books that champion traditional cuisines, what an honor!
What wisdom would you have liked to share with yourself when you first started out?
You really don’t need any organization or person to validate you and give you permission to try something new, trust the quality of your work and don’t be afraid to kill your darlings, fail fast to move forward.