Meet our Research and Development Chef, Mariana!
Our research & development chef, Mariana Avila, is passionate about making healthy and delicious meals that students genuinely love to eat. Mariana works diligently to create, test and commercialize school meals at a national level. Based out of our headquarters in Oakland, California, Mariana often visits Bay Area schools to engage with students and gain insight about what they would like to see on the menu, and what they are enjoying about the current menu. Getting frequent feedback from students and school administrators helps our product development team identify what’s working and what tweaks need to be made to ensure student satisfaction. Read on to learn about Mariana’s culinary background, what inspires her when making new meals, and what new menu item she’s developed for students to enjoy this year.
How did you become interested in being a chef?
As a kid, people always ask you what you want to do when you grow up. Some kids say they want to be veterinarians, others want to be princesses, or they want to do the same thing as their parents. That was not the case for me. I was lost; I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. My mom wanted me to be a dentist just like her, and my dad wanted me to be an accountant just like him. Although both professions are great, it didn’t seem like the right career path for me. As I entered high school, I decided to take a basic culinary class during my freshmen year. I enjoyed the course because it was fun, and it came easy to me. I realized later that it was easy for me because I genuinely had a knack for cooking. My high school culinary program was part of the ProStart culinary competition team sponsored by the California Restaurant Association. I joined the competition team during my sophomore year, and I was determined to go to The Culinary Institute of America after graduation. By senior year I was captain of the team, and we won second place in the state. I won scholarships and grants, which allowed me to pursue my dream of becoming a chef and attend The Culinary Institute of America. I graduated with my associate's degree in culinary arts and a bachelor’s degree in culinary science.
What did you do before you worked at Revolution Foods?
Before working at Revolution Foods, I was the sous chef for a well-known restaurant in downtown Napa Valley. As the sous chef, I was second-in-command in the kitchen and reported to the executive chef. I made sure that the kitchen was a well-oiled-machine; I prepared food, managed the kitchen staff to make sure the food was prepared quickly and was delicious. When the executive chef was away, I was in charge of leading the team. Although being a sous chef was a demanding job that required mental and physical strength (and being on your feet for 12-16 hours a day), it was also gratifying. I had the opportunity to create new dishes and express my style through the food we were cooking. I was also able to hone my cooking techniques and learn how to manage a team.
How do you get inspiration for new meals?
My main inspiration is my ethnic background. I am Colombian and have always been drawn to bold, bright, rounded flavors. Latin America has a wide variety of complex flavors, textures and colors. I try to feed off the energy Latin American food has to offer and channel that into my own meals.
What’s your favorite meal that you developed?
My favorite meal is our new chicken chilaquiles. The idea behind this meal is to showcase bold, bright flavors that would get the attention from middle to high school students. The meal is composed of corn scoops, mixed with salsa roja (a red sauce consisting of tomatoes, onion, garlic, and a secret Revolution Foods spice), topped with brown rice, shredded chicken, and cilantro lime crema. This meal was highly rated during student testing and will soon be available for the upcoming school year, so I am excited to see how students enjoy it!
What do you love to cook at home?
I love making all types of different meals at home so it’s hard to pinpoint one dish. I absolutely love a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but I also love slow cooking carnitas overnight, making salsa verde from scratch to put on a warm corn tortilla topped off with cilantro and onion for some delicious tacos, because who doesn’t like tacos, right?
If you would like more information about Revolution Foods or to schedule a tasting for your school, please let us know! In the meantime, check out our sample menus for breakfast, lunch, snack, and supper.