Yara Herrera Teases Her Vegan Pozole Verde before Bowl of ‘Zole 2021

Yara Herrera has been cooking for over a decade, but her first job as Chef de Cuisine came only recently at the new plant-based restaurant Xilonen in Brooklyn. Her Mexican heritage and reverence for sustainable cooking and eating practices made her a perfect fit for the new spot. She will be cooking up a vegan pozole for Bowl of ‘Zole on October 23rd, but before that she talked with us about her background, her cooking philosophy and sharing the food she ate growing up with the world.

Food Karma: How did you get into cooking?

Yara Herrera: I started cooking when I graduated high school in 2010. I took a culinary course as an elective to get into college for social work .I enjoyed the class so much and I had a such talented female chef teacher, I was instantly inspired and ended up switching my field of interest and enrolling in culinary school. I had no idea what it meant to be a chef and I didn’t have any insight as to what it meant to be in the industry. I feel very lucky that it has worked out for me so well. 

FK: Did you get to work in fine dining Mexican food before joining Xilonen?

YH: I’ve worked in some of the best restaurants in the world including Providence and Spago in Los Angeles and Momofuku KO here in NY, but I have never worked in any Mexican restaurant prior to Xilonen. I am just as surprised as anyone to be running an entire Mexican restaurant in New York. However, I am first generation Mexican-American and I feel comfortable sharing Mexican food with guests and colleagues because it is what I grew up eating.

FK: How much vegan/vegetarian eating and cooking were you doing before this position?

YH: I am not 100% vegan or vegetarian but I do follow a primarily plant-based diet. I rarely eat animal products. I’m not opposed to them. During the pandemic I spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of chef I want to be when I return to work; working around the needs of our planet earth was at the top of the list. I love burgers and fried chicken and pizza but I don’t like the affect it has on our planet. Chefs, especially now, have all the power in the world to create delicious dishes without compromising sustainability, and that is what drove my focus towards Xilonen.

FK: What has it been like opening during the pandemic?

YH: Opening during the pandemic was and still is challenging. From staffing to resources to mental health, health all around actually! Restaurant workers had to return to work during a life-threatening time to serve in the hospitality industry and many to work at poverty wages. I think the industry as a whole has taken a step back and realized that we have prioritized others for so long, putting our needs at the bottom of the list and we need change.

FK: What associations do you have with pozole?

YH: Growing up I would associate pozole with parties! As crazy as that sounds, it was often a dish that would be served in Quinceñeras, in weddings and at birthday parties! Every family has a different way of making their pozole, and I was always excited to see which one would be served at the celebration. It was always a good time when you had pozole. Not to mention, it’s one of my favorite dishes of all time.

FK: Will you be making a traditional version or adding a twist?

YH: I will be making a green vegan pozole. The broth will have traditional ingredients and follow traditional techniques, but I will be substituting the usual chicken with a vegetable. You’ll have to find out what it is at Bowl of ‘Zole!

FK: How do you go about adapting classic dishes like pozole for a vegetarian menu?

YH: I start of by referencing what I remember my family serving and eating .Next, I think about what is in season, what the farmer’s that we work with have available for us. I’ll try a few different ingredients and techniques, until I find what compliments the dish best. That’s how I cook.

FK: Anything else you want to add?

YH: It brings me a lot of joy to know that I can share a large part of my culture with the world through one of my favorite dishes of all time. It is something truly beautiful, and it is why I cook. I’d hope that one day this world can learn to appreciate and become more aware of Mexican culture all around. Not just our amazing food, but also the people, the techniques and art that I feel often get looked past. 

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