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Chef Maria Mazon Interview

Top Chef Season 18 in Portland might have slingshotted Chef Maria Mazon into the culinary stratosphere, but it’s the moves she’s been making post-show that is cementing her place as a beyond-badass chef who is finally and fully being true to herself in the kitchen and on her menu.

Based in the UNESCO-deemed City of Gastronomy: Tuscon, Arizona, Maria is Executive Chef at BOCA Tacos y Tequila, Sona Tortillas and Dos opening July 2023. A two-time nominated James Beard Award finalist, she’s a talented chameleon in and out of the kitchen, adapting between mother, owner, chef, muse, wife, and friend from minute to minute.

We sat down with Maria for Spiceology’s Periodically Inspired interview series that dives deep into a chef’s psyche to talk about inspiration, challenges, char, what makes a great tortilla, and a lot more. Read the full interview and get to know her below:

When did you first find a love of cooking?

“I was always that kid that couldn't stand still. Back in the day, there was no such thing as ADHD, but I was always the active, nosey kid. I grew up in Sonora, Mexico. My nanny made the meanest Chile Colorado, and I was always just interested in food. I’m not ashamed to admit that school was never my cup of tea; I tried college and it wasn’t for me. So I started working in restaurants - first at Papagayos.

Being in a border town - Mexican food was not what I grew up eating, like where’s this yellow cheese from? There were three types of ‘Mexican’ food in my world: the food I grew up eating in Sonora, Americanized Mexican food and Tex Mex - I don’t mix with fucking Tex Mex.

But I just got myself in the kitchen. You know how humidity absorbs you? That was me in the kitchen. I discovered that I was good at chaos. I was good at something without getting distracted. I started working in the kitchen when I was 23; I was waitressing before and it didn't bug me, but I knew I wanted to do something else. I became a chef by accident.

And, it needs to be said, I’m Mom before everything else.”

Talk to me about some of the challenges you’ve faced in your career.

“The challenge is always the obvious one: yes, I’m a woman. But the biggest challenge was coming out of the closet and being true to myself, so I could be true to who I wanted to be in the kitchen.

Then there’s money and getting to know the business side, like when I was starting out I was like: the fuck is this? Very, very early on I realized I was a business person first - THEN a chef. Trust me, I want to buy truffles all day long, but the business side of me says no.

But I have some great partners in my wife, my ex, and my ex in-laws.

Now the challenge is social media; some ‘chefs’ are getting notoriety without even stepping in the kitchen. Nowadays the number of followers you have are more credibility than experience or skill. That’s the infuriating part - some of these brands, like who do want to rep you? An influencer or someone who actually has the chops?

I don't cook for the internet, I cook for my patrons. People who come often and wait in line. My Mexican food is not fast food. You’re going to be waiting 13 minutes for a taco because I have to cook your meat to order. I fry my tortilla chips to order. You pay me for excellent food - that takes time."