Congratulations to Chef Susie Jimenez for proving that, with determination and balance, a person can accomplish whatever they can dream.
The daughter of Mexican migrant workers who came to California from Mexico, Susie grew up helping pick peaches and cherries along the West Coast. She always loved to cook, and, at age 20, she enrolled in the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.
In 2011 Susie appeared on Season Seven of The Food Network Star and came in second place. After the show, she went back to her already successful catering business in Colorado. It wasn’t too long after that when she was persuaded by friends in Houston to open her own Mexican/Latin American/Indian fusion restaurant, Trenza, but that operation regretfully did not last.
Susie went back to her custom catering business in Colorado, renamed it “Spice It Up,” and continues to add to its amazing creative “drop it offs” of delicious and healthy prepared Latin meals that customers just need to heat up for family dinners, holidays, or parties.
Hip Latina caught up with Susie recently. Here is the first part of that conversation. Check back soon for part 2!
On Hard Work
Susie Jimenez: Before I went on the food network, I used to watch people like Eva Longoria on TV and think, “These people are so lucky, they get to be famous and go to these parties and blah, blah, blah” and now I realize these people are not lucky, they are just really hard workers.
Hip Latina: Most of us don’t realize it until we grow up and try to do something difficult. It would be great if kids in high school, for example, could get this into their heads somehow: the people who are the most successful are the ones who get up at 5 a.m. and work so hard all day.
SJ: Absolutely, and it’s true, and it comes true with life in general, not just your career. Same with your body, taking care of your house, everything. Don’t look at someone in a magazine and say, “Oh, I wish I looked like her.” You can if you put the time into it.
HL: Sure, it all comes down to priorities.
SJ: Yes. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized it’s nice to have friends who are motivating, rather than all your friends just doing the same thing over and over. It’s nice to be around people who have the motivation to be better and better, bigger and bigger. I find myself attracted to people who can push me, like my friend Sarah with this magazine. Life is tough, but you get rewarded, and it’s a great feeling to know that you did something on your own.
On Learning From Your Mistakes
HL: And if you know that you tried as hard as you could, I think it can help keep you somewhat immune to any setbacks that might happen. Then you can move forward knowing that you put in a good effort and ultimately learned something, right?
SJ: At the end of the day, as long as you walk away with experience and learn from it and don’t do it again. I opened up a restaurant last year, and it didn’t work out, but this year I’m home and it smells great in my house, and I’m cooking for people, and I have like 25 people coming over tomorrow and I’m making tamales.
Last year I didn’t get to be with my family over the holidays because I had to work all the time. I promised myself then not to take my family for granted in the future. I had to work in Houston and my husband lives here in Aspen, and whenever I would fly home to visit him I would sleep the whole time from being so exhausted.
I realized that I don’t need to move to Houston and open a restaurant just because I have a celebrity chef name. I learned from the experience and walked out of there so much wiser. Unfortunately we all go through mistakes, and we have to learn from them.
On Catering Versus the Restaurant Business
HL: So, with the restaurant and then going back to catering—do you think that catering is really more what you like doing, or do you think you’d like to open up another restaurant in the future?
SJ: You know, what I learned with this restaurant experience in Houston, is that my home is here, in Aspen. I know people here, and I think people are more likely to support someone they know, someone local.
The imbalance in my life at that time started catching up to me—I couldn’t stand not seeing my husband, for one thing. I have one of the best, most supportive husbands in the world, and I left him to go live in Houston. So I think now that if I were to open another restaurant, it would probably be here in Aspen, where my home life is too. I do like catering, but I think my favorite thing is going on stage and doing demos. You get to talk about your family and interact with people.
HL: That seems like a good combination, of demos and catering, because you get to practice your skills all the time and plan ahead. You can have so much variety in your day-to-day life, and learn all the time.
SJ: That’s the beauty of being a chef—you can go in a million different directions. And with demos, I love going on stage and representing thousands of people who have struggled so hard in this country. There are so many families who come here and start at the bottom—my family picked cherries—and when someone like me can become successful, it means a lot to the rest of the family. I love being able to represent what’s possible for people.
In part 2 of the interview, Susie offers advice to adults who can’t cook, and discusses ways to involve children in the kitchen. Stay tuned!