Eat Good, Do Good: In Conversation with Ixiim Toronto’s Chef Erika Araujo, Featured Chef at This Year’s Recipe For Change

In anticipation of Recipe For Change‘s tenth anniversary, happening Thursday, February 21, we’re chatting with some of the featured chefs. Last week, we profiled Miriam Echeverria, Chef de Cuisine at Greta Solomon’s Dining Room, and now we want to shine a spotlight on Chef Erika Araujo of Ixiim Toronto

When Erika migrated to Canada after working as a nurse in Mexico, she discovered her passion for the culinary world and began teaching traditional Mexican cuisine and culture through her company, Ixiim Toronto. She and her business partner, Istra Avila, are currently working on the opening Mixi Culinary, a space open to those seeking to practice and share their traditional roots through food.

SDTC: What dishes will you be serving up at Recipe For Change?

EA: A pair of ancestral dishes: Tamale, a small steamed cake of corn dough spread on a corn husk, steam cooked and stuffed with green tomatillo sauce and chicken or mushrooms (vegan option, gluten-free); and Tlacoyo, a typical street dish from central Mexico that has a corn base that’s fatter than a fresh corn tortilla, made in a leaf shape, stuffed with pork or Ricotta cheese, topped with cactus salad and roasted green tomato sauce, sour cream and feta cheese (vegetarian option, gluten-free). I will be serving a very traditional version. 

There are lots of reasons why this event is important. What makes it most meaningful to you?

In a world where we’ve started to lose the connection with our traditional recipes from our grandmas and stopped cooking in our kitchens, I am very happy to participate with FoodShare. The organization inspires kids and adults to create more healthy habits, and [it not only educates them] about healthy food, but it connects them to where their food comes from. With these programs and initiatives, we will inspire a new generation to be more environmentally responsible and make more conscious, healthy choices. 

What are the dishes you remember most from your childhood? And how did they influence your path?

I have many dishes that my mom and grandma used to cook every Sunday and on special occasions, but one of the most memorable are Sopes. When my family and I first immigrated to Canada, we felt homesick and lonely. The first dish I made for them was Sopes, as that’s what my mom used to make for us every Sunday, and I wanted to make my family feel a sense of home.

The magic of being able to bring comfort to someone else through food is incredible. My family inspired me to start a new career in the culinary world so that I could share my roots with others.

What flavours/spices do you love to cook with most, and why?

I love to cook with cilantro, epazote, achiote, and guajillo pepper. They bring a lot of aromas, colours, flavours, and very healthy properties to any dish.

When is your favourite time to cook?

My days off or when we have something to celebrate (typically dinners) and especially when family and friends get together. Any celebration is just an excuse to make something delicious!

What’s your best advice for those who lack confidence in the kitchen?

My youngest student was two years old—anyone can cook! My best advice is to enjoy and have fun when you are cooking, it’s so important! Making easy recipes to start will help you to build confidence and gradually go to more complex dishes to help you discover your inner chef.

Ask friends to teach you, do not be afraid to make mistakes, cook for those you love, find workshops around the city, especially ones that are hands-on. There is a world of possibilities out there.

What part of the cooking process do you love most, and why?

Creating and presentation. When I found my passion to cook Mexican food, I started to watch Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Seeing all of those chefs creating new recipes inspired me so much. What I love most is presenting in a very artistic but simple way. I compare a canvas to a plate and create art with a dish, playing with the aromas, colours, visual creations, and then an explosion of flavours. It really makes me feel very motivated and fall in love with this awesome profession every day.

Recipe For Change is a phenomenal event that raises much-needed funds for FoodShare Toronto, an organization devoted to helping food security in the GTA through nutritious programs and food education. This year’s tenth anniversary will honour women of colour chefs who are making a big impact in our city. There are a few tickets still available for purchase, but get them now, as this event always sells out.

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