The Main Meal with Mariana Velasquez
Award-winning recipe developer, food stylist, author + founder
Bogotá native turned NYC resident Mariana Velasquez grew up in a world rich in vibrant culinary and cultural traditions that have influenced her life as an award-winning recipe developer, food stylist, author, and hostess. Having collaborated with her magic on our west~bourne shoots, we caught up with this talented multi-hyphenate when she released her first cookbook,Colombiana: A Rediscovery of Recipes and Rituals from the Soul of Colombia.
Where did you discover your passion for food?
Growing up, everything in our family revolved around food and was anchored in gathering. Both of my grandmothers were incredible cooks, and my mom was well-versed in the art of the tablescape. The table was set for dinner every night, and weekend lunches with the family were an elaborate affair. For me, the idea of bringing people together around food created a sense of belonging, and I knew this would become my magic.
How did you find your way to becoming a food stylist?
In 1999, I left Colombia for California, where I had the chance to stage at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur. The owners – Tony and Tricia Perault – truly believed in creating lasting memories and meaningful experiences for their guests. Everything they did was the epitome of farm-to-table, far before “farm-to-table” was all the rage. Every detail was considered – from the daily menu and hand-signed artisan plates to the hand-forged cutlery, heavy linens, and flowers sourced from Tricia's garden. While I spent most of my time peeling carrots during my time there, simply being surrounded by this level of detail profoundly impacted me. I learned that the visual part of food and the experience matter just as much as the flavor. It wasn't until many years later that I became a food stylist, but my time at Post Ranch Inn was the most magical way to start my career and, without a doubt, led me to now.
What inspired your cookbook?
There was a point about four years ago when I found myself uninspired. One night over drinks, a friend said something that clicked, “why haven't you written a Colombian cookbook?" There is no contemporary Colombian cookbook out there, and you're the person to write it.” I went home that night and started writing immediately.
I knew I didn't want to write an anthropological Colombian cookbook. Instead, I wanted to write a personal essay written through the eyes of someone who left 20 years ago. A cookbook that explores nostalgic flavors, shows a deep appreciation for the ingredients and techniques of my home country and celebrates the stories of women who have been pillars in my life and my connection to food.
Tips for hosting?
1. To me, the key to hosting is to be yourself.
2. Start with a clear idea of the host you want to be and the experience you want to give guests.
3. Set the table with things you have and love, such as family heirlooms or market finds that create a personal touch, feel lived in, and tell a story about who you are.
4. Make it easy for yourself; you don't have to make everything from scratch. Feel free to cook a few things at home and supplement them with things like cheese, bread, and great produce from your favorite local shop.
5. Minimize the prep. It will make you feel relaxed and ready to host when guests arrive, which is all that really matters.