Maria's Story

María Amalia Garza was born in Monterrey, México. She lived with her family in a ranch just outside the city. There were orange, mandarine and grapefruit trees on the ranch, as well as a corn field and a vegetable garden, so they had a bounty of fruits and vegetables right at their doorstep. 

Her parents were career oriented, so María Amalia and her siblings grew up under the watchful eye of “Nana”. She was the maid, nurse, housekeeper and second mom, all rolled into one. Her wonderful sense of humour often masked her strictness, and her appetite for life matched her appetite at the dinner table! Nana had no formal education, but she had - and still does - a deep knowledge of food, and knew the traditional way of preparing it, thus making it very authentic and most of all, delicious!

María Amalia has memories of a very early childhood where she would stand - barefoot on the cold tiled kitchen floor - to watch Nana prepare her favourite treat: Arroz con Leche (Rice Pudding). She would observe while Nana boiled rice and water in a deep pot, later adding milk, sugar and cinnamon sticks. After it was done, Nana would give her but a spoonful of the warm arroz, and then it would be chilled to make a reappearance at the lunch table.

María Amalia learned to cook from friends and relatives, while sharing those wonderful social culinary experiences that families make possible. One such experience was sitting around the kitchen table with Nana, her sisters, and some close friends making Tamales filled with beans, chicken in green tomatillo sauce or shredded pork in red chile sauce. Tamales are normally prepared ahead of time to be ready for the Christmas holidays or piñata parties, traditionally for birthdays or the wonderful “posadas”, which welcome the arrival of Christmas.

From Nana, María Amalia learned how to prepare some of her favourite dishes, such as Enchiladas Suizas (chicken rolled up in a tortilla, served with green tomatillo sauce and sour cream), Chiles Rellenos (beef-stuffed peppers, covered in an egg batter), Frijoles Rancheros (ranch style beans) and so much more…

María Amalia left Mexico years ago, but her learning didn't stop there. She's an avid cook and food explorer. She has taken a numerous courses in various food styles, such as Indian, Thai, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, French, Venezuelan and Caribbean, among others. In 2003, after founding The Cultural Kitchen, she traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, where she took specialized classes from Chef Susana Trilling, author of "The Seasons of my Heart" cookbook and owner of Seasons of my Heart Cooking School, and Chef Iliana de la Vega, Chef/owner of the former El Naranjo Restaurant in Oaxaca, and present Chef/owner of the El Naranjo Restaurant in Austin, Texas.

In 2005, she was invited to attend the first Tri-National Seminar on Mexican Gastronomy, in Mexico City, where she immersed herself in what truly makes Mexican Cooking an identity factor for the Mexican. From there, she went to tour Hacienda La Rojeña, in Tequila, Jalisco, to learn the process of making Tequila. In 2008, María visited Yucatán, where she learned about Mayan cuisine, and early in 2009, she attended the 4th International Seminar on Mexican Gastronomy and Culture, held in Puebla, México. Along with 54 fellow chefs, she re-visited the traditional cuisine of Puebla while learning new trends on Mexican gastronomy.

In January 2008, María started her partnership with fellow food and wine enthusiast Antonio Mauriello, sommelier and owner of DiVino Wine Studio. María became the Executive Chef at the restaurant, where she managed the kitchen as well as the cooking school portion of the business.

In the summer of 2009, María traveled Sicily for a few weeks, taking cooking lessons from the locals in Modica and the Etna area. That was doubly interesting because the classes were in Sicilian! There she learned the secrets of Sicilian cookery as well as the history and tradition of that beautiful island.

In January 2010 María attended the Puglia Wine & Land 2010 tour. This was a whirlwind tour of the province, showcasing the best of Puglian wines, food and hospitality. María met Pietro Zito, a Chef dedicated to preserve the ancient flavours of Puglia, never forgetting the link between land and table; as well as Chef Antonio de Rosa, another avid ambassador of Puglian food and wine, but with a view of following tradition while adding new ways of presenting dishes.

In April, 2010, Maria left DiVino Wine Studio to dedicate herself full time to The Cultural Kitchen and do what she likes best: teaching. In October 2010, Maria Amalia attended “Latin Flavors, American Kitchens” at the new Culinary Institute of America Campus in San Antonio, Texas, where she learned about cuisines of countries like Chile, Peru, Brazil, Guadeloupe and Mexico, and how these cuisines and their recipes can be adapted to serve in North American restaurants.

In January, 2011, Maria Amalia travelled to Quintana Roo, to learn about Mayan cuisine and techniques, spending time in Playa del Carmen, Cobá, Tulum and Bacalar, cooking with the locals and learning from their traditional cooking. In August, 2011, Maria Amalia travelled to Mexico City to attend the "Expert Seminar on Tequila", at the Academia Mexicana de Catadores de Tequila, taught by Maestro Tequilero Franz Hajnal, whom Maria Amalia met in 2005 in the first Seminar on Gastronomy in Mexico City. After that, followed a Stage at Titi Panini, in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, working alongside Chef Mariana Bustamante and Mixologist Arturo Valenzuela.

In October 2011, Maria Amalia returned to San Antonio, to the CIA, for the "Latin Flavors, American Kitchens" Conference. This time around, she learned from chefs from Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico and the USA.

In June 2012, Maria Amalia travelled south to Colombia to impart three fabulous chocolate workshops sponsored by the Yarumo and Geoambiente Foundations, with the support of the “Compañía Nacional de Chocolates”, the Government of Cundinamarca, Xue Hotel, Cuchipanda Golosinas, and Ecojunca. The workshops were taught by Canadian Chefs from Stubbe Chocolates and The Cultural Kitchen. In addition to that, she spent a week at SENA (National Apprenticeship Service) in Santander, in a technology exchange with professors and students of the Chocolate and Technology University Degree.

In October 2012 and 2013 consecutively, Maria Amalia went back to San Antonio, to the CIA's "Latin Flavors, American Kitchens" Conference. During these conferences, she learned from chefs from Argentina, Peru, Panama, Brazil, Mexico, Cuba and the USA.

From January 2014 to January 2016, Maria Amalia developed and contributed original recipes as a Chef Food Blogger for Latina Magazine in the USA, in their The Latin Kitchen division, providing recipes that were published monthly on the site. For this project, Maria Amalia wrote, cooked, food styled, and photographed the recipes for publication.

María Amalia had a regular position with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board as a Continuing Education Cooking  Instructor for 18 years. On January 2016 María Amalia left the Board to start working for Farm Boy Inc., a specialty grocery store with multiple branches in Ontario. This started a new chapter in María Amalia's career and a very exciting adventure in product development.

María Amalia has taught numerous workshops in different venues in Ottawa, including the urban element, the City of Ottawa, and Algonquin College. María Amalia specializes in teaching private or very small groups. She prefers a hands-on approach to cooking.

For María Amalia, teaching to cook the food of her beloved Mexico is synonymous with sharing her culture, and that's what she likes best. In all her classes, María Amalia feels the most important thing is to retain the traditional and authentic flavours from each country. She loves showing her students what it's like to cook the way it's really done at home, while teaching students chef's techniques.