EXCLUSIVE: Chef Marcela Valladolid On Comida, Motherhood & Throwing Parties

Isabella Martinez-Funcke

Marcela Valladolid, the Tijuana-born TV host and cookbook author beloved for her modern Mexican cooking and girl next door good looks, is so chill you’d never know she’s raising three kids while running a culinary empire out of her San Diego home. 

We asked her about motherhood, Mexican food, and how to host a spectacular summer party. Here’s what she had to say.

You grew up in Tijuana. What makes the food there different from other regional Mexican cuisine?

In Tijuana, we have cuisine from every region of Mexico and cooks from all over cooking in all of the restaurants, so there is a huge influence from sources like the Yucatan, Oaxaca and Puebla. We have a little bit of everything so we’re more permitted to experiment.

Does the connection to San Diego, where you live now, have an impact on Tijuana’s food?

Absolutely. Those of us that were raised in Tijuana have so much access to San Diego. I was crossing the border every day when I was a kid, and that back and forth has a huge influence on the cuisine. So the U.S. is coming down to Tijuana, Tijuana is going to San Diego. There's this great blending, a great exchange. I mean, for us it's not two countries, it's more of a region. Baja and California are kind of the same thing.

mezcal horchata

Photo: Isabella Martinez-Funcke

Let’s talk entertaining. What makes a good host?

The secret weapon is to figure out what you need so you can chill, because you, as the host, set the tone, and if it’s negative in any way, your guests can tell.

Did your parents host a lot of family and friends while you were growing up?

Yes. We really are a family that likes to entertain and we all agree on what makes a great dinner: good food, good drinks, good music, good lighting, and good company.

What are your music and lighting recommendations?

For me, candlelit is the only way to have a dinner. There are always candles at my table. And I like to have Luis Miguel playing in the background.

luis miguel background music tablescape

Photo: Isabella Martinez-Funcke

And what about guests? Do you “balance the table” with different personalities or invite like-minded people?

It depends on the kind of dinner you’re having. I had my to producer to dinner last week and I invited my compadres. Why? Because they’re bilingual and they’re super fun and they’re super easy and they eat everything and they drink everything… So even though I always try to accommodate my guests, it’s also nice to have those guests that are fun and easy going.

What about kids at dinner parties? 

100% yes. I think it's important to educate kids about food and let them help a little with the cooking and cleaning. That interaction is really important.

Marcela Valladolid Family  

Photo: Coral Von Zumwalt, reprinted courtesy of Casa Marcela © 2017 by Marcela Valladolid

Your house is pretty incredible. Do you feel like you won the lottery every time you walk into your beautiful home?

You know what, I kind of do. I mean, there are days that it’s really hectic around here, but when it’s sundown and I’m walking through the hallway to the dining room and the birds and the crickets are chirping, I feel this sense of peace, like everything is coming full circle.