In celebration of Women’s History Month, we're sharing stories from our partners who are making history in the foodservice industry. These trailblazers are transforming menus around the world, and we want their success to ignite your creativity as well.
Today we’re highlighting Chef Katy Velazquez of Qdoba, whose transition from feeding friends at dinner parties to working for national brands has taught us that anything is possible for chefs of all backgrounds -- all you need is determination and the courage to go after what you want.
IF: You’re currently an executive chef at Qdoba, a fast casual restaurant in the United States and Canada with +750 locations. How did you get there? What’s your origin story?
Katy Velazquez: I fell in love with cooking when I started college and had to learn how to feed myself. I would watch shows on Food Network and throw themed dinner parties to feed my friends as a creative outlet. My passion and love for food grew, so I decided to attend culinary school after graduation.
After culinary school, I worked for Rick Bayless and ran his test kitchen. I also produced his television show, traveled to Mexico, co-authored his cookbook and hosted events with Bon Appetit and Gourmet. It was like getting a Master’s degree in the food industry and Mexican cooking.
From there, I helped San Diego-based Mexican restaurant Puesto open 4 restaurants in 3 years and made appearances on the Food Network with Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay. That is how the CEO of Qdoba found me and a few months later, they brought me on as their Executive Chef. It’s been such a fun journey ever since.
How does culture impact your approach to menu development?
I struggle to come to terms with the fact that I’m a white woman cooking Mexican food -- I’m married to a Mexican and have travelled and worked in Mexico, but it’s not my culture.
I decided to use my passion and knowledge to honor these culinary traditions, and use my platform to be as authentic as I can. That decision has allowed me to be a bridge between two cultures and to share the most authentic version of Mexican food with the biggest population possible.
Culture also provides unique opportunities for diversity and exploration. At Qdoba, we’re bringing in authentic Mexican flavors that can be challenging to the American palette. We’re doing our best to honor Mexican cuisine, and that allows us to offer exciting flavors that aren’t available in larger restaurant chains.
What role do women play in shaping the future of the food industry?
Historically, the cooking industry has been considered a male-dominated field, but things are rapidly changing. Not only are there more women entering into the field, there is diversity in the way they show up to work. Women don’t have to be super aggressive or ‘masculine’ to be successful -- look at female chefs like Christina Tossi. She embraces her femininity and what it means to be a woman, but is also a successful entrepreneur and leader.
There are so many powerful women just like her who are paving the way for female chefs and my goal is to be an equally inspirational leader even though I’ve transitioned out of the kitchen and into a more corporate role.
“As women, we’ve been raised to ask for permission. I want you to know that when it comes to your career, you don't have to ask permission -- if there’s something you want, you go for it.”
What advice would you give to women who want to enter this industry?
Be less afraid of what people think of you. If you spend your time worrying what the men in this industry are thinking of you or how they interpret your actions, you won’t be able to be productive. All you can do is be yourself, work hard and have a great attitude. The opportunities will open up if you do those things - regardless if you’re male or female.
What is on the road ahead for Qdoba?
Sustainability is in our core values as a company, and we have set a goal to offer 100% clean label products by 2023. That extends to our packaging as well - we’ve eliminated straws from the restaurant. It’s baby steps, but we are working towards them constantly.
Impossible™ Taco Salad
How do Impossible™ products help you achieve your goals?
Consumers are becoming more educated about food & there is a huge demand for health and environmentally - focused menu items. We know that we need to provide offerings for a range of diets, as well as expand on what real Mexican food is. That’s why we love Impossible™ Meat Made From Plants -- it matches so well with our food and is really delicious.
It incorporates beautifully into our recipes because it has the flavor of ground beef without the negative environmental impacts. It’s also easy to cook with so it satisfies a variety of needs and allows us to offer more exciting dishes. We launched a new line of offerings this year and my absolute favorite is the Impossible Taco Salad. I order it every time I eat at Qdoba because it’s just so delicious.