“I like to say that I quit working for the system and left the corporate world to go live on the beach!”
Maria Jose is a world citizen in every sense of the word. She comes from El Salvador, has worked in Australia and Tasmania, and studies in Croatia. She is currently enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at Kul IN and is preparing for her final exams. For Latin American cuisine enthusiasts, Maria has prepared a brief introduction to Salvadoran cuisine, while others can read more about her distinctive life journey, inspiration, plans and, of course, gastronomy in Latin American fashion.
How did you decide to choose this profession?
- I am a professional graphic designer but I decided to change my career path at one point. I like to say that I quit working for the system and left the corporate world to go live on the beach!
Can you tell us more about your beginnings in the culinary industry?
- My beginnings were full of traveling, meeting different cuisines and exploring new places. I met an American couple that opened a brewery called Brew Revolution and I did marketing and graphic design for their business. They showed me how to make beer and eventually I ended up working in the kitchen, making menus etc. However, I really wanted to travel, so I embarked on a journey around South and Central America. After a while, I decided to come back to El Salvador and got a job as a hostel manager in a town near the capital. One day, the employee who worked in the kitchen quit, so I had to step in and cook for all rooms. That was a completely new experience for me but I felt confident because I had always cooked at home, I even wanted to attend culinary high school but my dad wasn't very supportive of that. I spent some time managing the hostel but I felt that nudge to travel again and I set off to Australia. I started working at a cafe and stopped doing graphic design. After a while I started working in a restaurant. We had a big menu with breakfast, lunch and dinner but the owner was strict, we had to work a lot, there were only 2 of us in the kitchen, and a lot of food to prepare. I also started doing catering based on Mexican cuisine for birthdays, weddings etc. After all of that, I moved to Tasmania and I work in a cafe there. I regularly applied for different masterclasses, e.g. short pastry courses. Food has changed everything in my life.
So now you are on this path for good?
Well, yes but I don't want to limit myself only to culinary arts. I always have many ideas on my mind. For example, I also love pastry, I make chocolate, I cook, it is never just one thing with me. I constantly change, it is healthy and I never get bored.
Who or what influenced you the most?
- Traveling influenced my journey, it is the thing that inspires me. I got to try different types of food while traveling around the world. In Central America, cuisines are pretty similar but South America is totally different. They have different fruits, spices. Different European cuisines are also very diverse.
What was your favorite dish growing up?
- Ceviche! It is a seafood dish from Latin America. It is made from raw fish cured in citrus juices. You can also make it with prawns, mussels, almost all kinds of seafood. We add lime, coriander, tomato, onion, salt and pepper and clam juice to it. You can really play with it, it's a very refreshing summery dish.
What is Salvadoran cuisine like?
- If I had to use one word to describe it, I would say it is Latina, we add different spices and different kinds of chili, eat a lot of seafood and fresh food. We rarely eat meat and when we do it is mostly lomo steak. I noticed that Croatians love meat, my stomach couldn't handle it! Salvadorans eat many different things but I'll just list a couple of dishes that are closest to our hearts. For example, pupusas are the most popular by far. It is a flatbread made mostly from corn flour. You can also add cheese, beans in it, even pork, depending on what you want, it can even be vegetarian with spinach. It is similar to Colombian and Venezuelan arepa. Seeing the cheese melt is simply heavenly! We eat it with pickles and tomato sauce. We also like green bananas, when they are ripe they are sooo good! Tamales are pretty popular as well, it is a traditional Mesoamerican dish made of corn dough and steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf.
Why did you decide to enroll at Kul IN?
- I really liked your program presentation on the web page and the two-month study program was the perfect option for me. I researched further, reviews were great, and I decided I wanted to specialize at your school. I had never taken a culinary arts class before, so I didn't know the basics and your approach is all about starting from the basics and building on that foundation - that was very helpful for me because I had skipped the basics and went straight to work.
Can you share with us your plans for the future?
- I don’t know what my plans are yet, I have never had a straightforward path. I know I am going back to Tasmania because I start work in September. I might try to find a job at a restaurant since I prefer working in restaurant over working in a cafe. Also, I am thinking about opening a small business of my own, I have always wanted to do that but business owners have to deal with a lot of bureaucracy, you have to get permits for everything.
Do you have any advice for prospective students?
- If you really put in the work, you can learn a lot. You need to have passion for your profession, it all depends on you, give 100% of yourself because people who work at the school give their 100% to you!
Program: Culinary Arts