Close your eyes and imagine you’ve just walked through the doors of an opulent and lavish, but very hospitable, restaurant. Now picture yourself breathing in the flavorful and hearty aromas emanating from the kitchen, as cooks meticulously prepare delectable entrees for their guests. The scent of slow-roasted rib permeates the entire room and guests eagerly await to be served even just a small morsel of the savory main course. As you open your eyes you realize that you are standing in the living room of Josephine Villero, directly adjacent to the kitchen where she has worked all day preparing a delicious meal.
A native to El Centro, Villero, age 22, was exposed from an early age to the diverse selection of foods available in her hometown. From Asian cuisine, to traditional Mexican foods, American favorites and customary Filipino dishes, Villero draws inspiration from every culture when preparing her own culinary creations.
Among the many inspirations that sparked her interest in cooking and baking, Villero credits her mother and grandmother with having the most influence. “They’re both amazing cooks, and my older brother also really enjoys cooking. It was the whole process of watching and tasting their food while growing up that excited me about making my own,” she says.
Villero participated in Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program’s food technology program and soon after was offered a position at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency’s kitchen. There she worked as a food service assistant for almost a year. Now a recent graduate of the Indianapolis Training Center - Culinary Arts Program in Indiana, Villero earned her stripes as an expert cook and was trained not only in food preparation but also the fundamentals of operating a successful restaurant. “They taught us everything from preparing meats to vegetarian cooking and baking. They also taught us restaurant management and menu planning, as well as the costing of ingredients,” she says.
The nine-month culinary program, in addition to the school’s three-month summer internship, helped ready Villero for her next culinary endeavor; her burgeoning catering business. Although a classically trained baker, Villero sees no limitations when it comes to creating beautiful and appetizing foods for any clientele. “The most recent challenge I had was baking a birthday cake for a client’s granddaughter who was on a vegan-like diet,” she shares. “I had to research a lot and used soy butter, and milk, and flaxseed instead of eggs. It was really fun to experiment and challenge myself,” she expresses.
As a well-rounded cooking aficionado, Villero is knowledgeable of all types of food preparation. She admits, however, that she most admires the intricacy of baking. “Baking is very scientific; it has to be precise in measuring the ingredients and setting the right temperature. I love baking sweets and pastries,” she states.
Her catering services have also led to several personal cooking opportunities, where she has cooked and delivered dishes to customers’ homes. One client in particular is a frequent recipient of Villero’s culinary skill. “One customer has me prepare meals for the week, so I’ll make things like lasagna or beef stew in portions and put them in the freezer. Then when she comes home she can warm the portion in the oven, and it’s ready to serve,” says Villero.
Proud to represent both her American and Filipino heritages, Villero also familiarizes herself with cooking traditional Filipino foods. Some of the recipes that have been passed down to her from generations before include dishes like pancit, noodles mixed with vegetables and chicken, lumpia, deep fried egg rolls filled with meat, and the dessert favorite biko, sweetened rice cakes topped with caramel or latik. For the holidays, Villero and her family have their own unique tradition of preparing two separate meals, one representing each culture.
This issue’s recipe, the “Natural Standing Rib Roast” from Brant Beef’s Executive Chef, Tom McAliney, was chosen by Villero for its holiday resonance and for the company’s notable hormone-free, natural beef selections. “This recipe is a classic traditional holiday meal that isn’t too difficult for others to make. That’s why I chose it,” she states. To accompany the savory meat, Villero halved and roasted red potatoes in olive oil, salt and pepper, in addition to steamed and sautéed string beans, garnished with slices of almonds. She also prepared a rich and creamy horseradish sauce to complement the roast.
The entire dish proved to be just as delicious as it smelled upon first entering the Villero home and the rib roast was tender to the touch, impeccably seasoned and roasted to medium-rare perfection. Villero’s ultimate goal is to one day open her own bakery. Until then, she is hopeful that her catering services will open the door for other professional and educational opportunities. At the age of just 22, Josephine Villero has already mastered the discipline of the culinary arts and can call herself, and rightfully so, a true cooking connoisseur.
Kitchen with a Mission: Josephine Villero - Cultures of Cooking
Cultures of Cooking