Everything April Valencia touches feels like a warm embrace, steeped in palpable goodness. We’re talking cooking, tradition, and community this month... and we will be having a dinner party this week thanks to April’s inspiring work with Masa Memory. Want to come over?
April! We’ve been hoping to connect with you for a whole year, if not longer :-) So happy we’re finally here. We’ve always felt drawn to your cooking– it pulls from family tradition, heirloom ingredients, and comforting flavors. What can you tell us about your relationship with cooking and how has it changed throughout your life?
I know! This year was full of so much for me on a personal level as an artist and for Masa Memory. I brought more people onto my team, started managing all our production for events and products, took new courses to learn more about farming and also spent time away to be in the ocean. Here we are now, almost a year later and I am so happy to finally connect in this way + share more with ARQ!
My relationship with cooking is an intimate one - I spend so much time in kitchens cooking and like any sweet romance, I’m always drawn back in. I never tire of cooking for myself or others. My close friends know if I’m coming over, I’m jumping straight into their kitchen to cook for us. They always have things set up for me and gather around the stove pouring drinks and we talk. I chop and they set the table. This ritual sorta just happened one day, a few years ago, and never stopped. This way of existing with my family and friends is one my favorite parts of being a cook.
When I was younger, cooking became a way I could show love to my family. My mom worked a lot - I knew she had so much on her schedule - so I learned to cook for her and my brothers. I wanted to take care of them in that way. Thankfully, I was taught at a young age, that when someone made food for me, it was a gift. I was different from my siblings and my friends who wanted to eat out. I always wanted to go grocery shopping with my mom and nana to pick our food. My family laughs when my mom recalls how I would cry when she made my favorite food. That is so funny to me looking back and rings true today! I recently had this experience in Mallorca eating at CA NA TO NE TA. The dinner left me speechless and almost in tears. The sisters that run the restaurant gave me a gift in the form of a food experience that I will remember.
Since I was young, I was fascinated with the process of cooking: all the smells and sounds that spill out of a busy family kitchen. I just love this feeling; this is living to me! Now when I cook, it feels as if a movement is happening inside of myself and our community. We are connected to food beyond the grocery store - we are sharing a story that runs deeper than a finished dish. A story about Family Food Traditions and honoring the farmers who grow our food, about healthy soil and restoring the land.
Masa Memory, your hot sauce, mole, and tortilla-making moniker, is a sea of beautiful colors and gifts from the earth in the form of vegetables, grains, and meals. What made you decide to start Masa Memory? Did you always feel like a business owner, or has it been an ongoing process of change and reformation?
Thank you for your words! I think Masa Memory has always been with me - that all my paths kept leading me back to the one I’m on now. It is wonderful how life can turn out this way sometimes. I’ve always liked being involved in the process. I think that curiosity led me to realize I wanted to lead my own career, which eventually grew into my own business. I worked in restaurants for many years and my experiences during this time taught me about the kind of leader and business owner I wanted to be. It is an ever-evolving process, some days I feel like I’ve figured it all out and other days, I wonder… how did we miss this or that? I am always being reminded that it is all part of growing and learning… notes to carry with me on how to do something better for the next project.
A huge part of Masa Memory is community-making. You create beautiful gatherings and pop-ups where anyone who joins can become a friend and connect through the space and food you and your team create. Does this feel like an intentional aspect of Masa Memory, or did it happen on its own? What does community-making mean to you?
Reading this means so much to me. Thank you! I think it has been a mix of both. Community is very important to me! It is our foundation at Masa Memory. I want anyone who visits our page or our Masa Memory dinners and events, to feel that they are part of what we are doing. As our community and our Masa Memory team began to grow, I started to understand, with great depth, how important it is to protect and nurture this space. Community making, community building and community exchange to me are about listening to the needs of those around you and finding ways to support and contribute to what those are. Community is knowing that when I need something in a pinch, there are people, equally as busy, who will show up to help out and they know I will do the same for them. Community is about learning and listening. How can you exist in a space with someone who is different from you? How can you teach each other? How can you combine goals and missions? For me, this is a very key part of everything we do at Masa Memory. I learn so much from our community here in LA, Mexico, Oaxaca and the Yucatan. They are all different places and yet the heartbeat of our connection is the same… Honor the land, people and ancestral food practices. Community is a language, sometimes one that is spoken without words… a language shared through action, intention, respect and love. This is the kind of world I love to exist in and will always work to protect.
We’ve spoken so much about how food can be a source of comfort and connection in our lives. What other avenues do you turn to when you’re searching for those same sentiments? Do you have any daily or weekly rituals you participate in solo or with friends to take care of yourself?
I do! Rituals are so important to me - something that can ground me and most importantly, something that is just for me. I simply couldn’t be without the ocean. Swimming in the ocean is my aliveness and center - it gifts me with so much creativity. I come out bursting with energy and love. Also, everyone who knows me, knows I’m absolutely obsessed with sunsets. They amaze me. I grew up in Arizona where the sky turns the most beautiful dusty red, orange and pink every night. When I’m back home in the southwest, no matter how many times I’ve seen those sunsets, I can’t believe they are real. Sunsets remind me that there is something bigger out there. They remind me that my brother is close by and that we are all connected. They ignite my truth and help that truth stay in the forefront.
Another ritual and must for me is that I carve out time to paint and work with my textiles. These forms of expression, which I do hope to share more of in the future, are something I can return to anywhere; however I am feeling. I can show up unexpectedly and unannounced - like returning to my family home. This brings me comfort.