Meet your Mexico City Chef Graciela
We are thrilled to be featuring Chef Graciela Montaño as our Mexico City Chef for our Fall Experience.
Chef Graciela is an incredibly talented chef, entrepreneur, and cultural ambassador! She founded Aura Mexicana Cocina and Aura house to share authentic Mexican Cuisine and Culture with others and has a popular weekly TV Show, Tu Cocina! which started in 2013. We love her passion and the unmistakable gift she has for weaving food and culture together.
We hope you enjoy this Q&A that shares more about her incredible story!
When did you know you wanted to be a chef? Did you have any role models or experiences that inspired you to pursue cooking?
Ever since I was a little girl, I loved to play with clay pots, imagining I had people over for dinner in my doll house. To me, that was natural because of the way I lived my childhood. My mother used to work and therefore it was my grandma who took care of me. Since I was a three-month-old baby, and up until the age of six, I had a daily routine with her: First thing on the schedule was going to the market and buy whatever we needed for that day’s menu. Once our shopping was done, we went back home and cooked together. I am lucky because I have three role models who taught me each something different. My grandmother, a wonderful cook full of hidden secrets and recipes to share; my mother, a magnificent host, she is an expert in organizing events and parties; and my dad, who loved to take us outside and knew all the best street food stands around the city.
Have you always lived in Mexico City? What do you love about it?
Yes, I was born in the heart of Mexico City and have always lived here. But I do have heritage from some other states in the country, my dad came from the city of Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco; my grandmother was from Campeche, in the southeast and my grandfather came from Zacatecas, in the north. Mexico City, it is such a vibrant place full of traditions and things to do. There are so many museums, churches, historical sites, cultural events, food alternatives, and the most important part, friendly people, it is simply amazing!
What was your inspiration behind founding Aura Cocina Mexicana and conducting cooking classes?
About twelve years ago, I decided to change my professional life completely, it all started between friends. My project grew and suddenly I had over 60 people taking the class where I would teach them about a Mexican dish and the perfect wine pairing with it. After that, I decided to start a professional career in Gastronomy and found my calling in Mexican Cuisine, linking it with my childhood memories. I discovered that Mexican Gastronomy and culture where the topics I was most passionate about. From then, my career on TV began, tough at times but rewarding in the end, my cooking segment was one of the most watched shows on the channel. I enjoyed making the show because I could create and design everything from scratch, adding nice personal details and stories.
We love that Aura Cocina Mexican is run by your family, can you tell us more about who does what?
Yes of course, it all started with me as head chef, but then, the studio grow and I invited my sister to be a part of Aura, I immediately thought of her because she had previously worked in the hospitality industry for several years and she loves to cook and host guests. After that, we still needed more people, so my cousin, also passionate about cooking joined us. But it did not stop there, Aura kept on growing and my husband became the back-office leader, helping us with sales, management, and finances. I want to let you know that at Aura, everyone who joins the team is part of the family even if we are not actually related.
What’s your favorite meal to cook, and why?
It has to be mole because of its sentimental meaning. Having mole was having a party, we used to cook this dish at my grandmother’s house whenever we were celebrating an special occasion.The mole making process is full of magical moments such as mixing that many ingredients that can include seeds, chillies, tortillas, and spices into a traditional “cazuela” (pot) and watch them blend in and exchange flavours with each other. My job as a young girl was to add chocolate into the mix and finish the preparation, big responsibility. It has always amazed me how such a wide variety of products can create a result so great as mole.
How would you describe your teaching style?
I would say that the most important thing for me is comfort, everyone who takes a class with me must feel confident, and immersed into a friendly environment. I prefer the idea of being “cooking amongst friends” than giving a class and having people just trying to learn the perfect techniques. At Aura, we make it fun and professional promoting Mexican hospitality as our main value: “Mi Casa Es Tu Casa”.
Do you have any special memories surrounding día de los Muertos or are there any traditions that you particularly enjoy about the holiday?
Yes absolutely, as most Mexicans, I grew up with this tradition. In my house, it goes like this: We build an altar together, and share “pan de muerto” with a cup of water based hot chocolate.
“Día de Muertos” is a bittersweet holiday because we are talking about special people we love who passed away, but at the same time, it is a party where we honor death, remembering those people and what they used to enjoy when they were alive. Mexico has such a unique way to approach death, more with celebration and happiness than with grief and sadness. This day is full of color, music and symbolism as well, everything that is a part of the altar has a particular meaning, it is simply wonderful.
What does a typical Día de los Muertos menu look like?
The menu depends on what the people we dedicate the altar to used to love when they were living, but there are some quintessential dishes such as mole, rice, “pan de muerto”, and a special dessert made with pumpkin.
Tell us about your weekly TV show, Tu Cocina! You’ve been doing the show since 2013, so do you have any favorite episodes or recipes that you’ve shared?
Yes, it has been a while since we started with “Tu Cocina”, three seasons, 60 episodes and so many recipes. I loved the experience and I have many memories, but if I had to choose just a couple, they would be the “Dia de Muertos” special where we cooked a three-course menu, starting with a salad made with mezcal seasoned nopal (cactus), then mole as a main dish and, we finished it with orange blossom jelly for dessert.
You do a lot of incredible work with local artisans, including the molinillo whisk we’re featuring, can you tell us more?
One of Aura’s main values is connecting with the locals, whether it is an ingredient or an artisan. We love to promote products with a story behind them, knowing all about the hands that created a specific craft is key for us. At Aura we have textiles, accessories, “olinala” trays and many more hand-made crafts from all over Mexico, but one of our most special items is the molinillo whisk.
Molinillos are one of the most traditional utensils found in Mexican kitchens. They have existed since prehispanic times when ancient cultures used them to create foam in their drinks, the way it works is that when moving the molinillo at a good pace inside the liquid, air comes in, generating that delicious foam we love to have in our hot chocolate. Foam, by the way, was very precious in old times because it represented the “soul” of the beverage.
Do you enjoy using social media to share recipes? Where can TROVE travelers find you online?
Absolutely, we love to share with our social media community all about Mexican traditions, information about our classes, cultural and culinary content as well. You can find us in Facebook as: Aura Mexican Cooking, we have a profile both in English and Spanish, or on Instagram as: auramexcooking. Finally, I want to share with you my personal accounts: Instagram: gracielamontanomx and Facebook: Graciela Montaño.
We want to dedicate a special thank you to TROVE. Erika, Emilie, and everyone in your team, we want to let you know that we love your project and feel honored to have been chosen to do this box with you, we can assure you have selected the best items to put in it.
All of us at Aura are very excited and cannot wait to cook together and make the most incredible experience for you.