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Empowerment through what human beings love most, food

María Fernanda Barriga, chef and girl power advocate, shares her experiences with us.

By Gabriela Vaca J.

In each of our interviews, we want to highlight the best every human being has to give, and on this occasion, we have an incredible woman who, through gastronomy and her daily approach to life, reveals just how empowered she is and feels, all the more so in a world long dominated by men.

María Fernanda Barriga shares her views on the presence of women in the kitchen and in the food industry as a whole, because she understands that gastronomy is not only history, it’s a product, a community and also innovation, and these are all areas where women play predominant roles.

María Fernanda is currently part of the MashpiLab external consulting team, working on a research and development project in the Chocó Andino for Fundación Futuro.

“I’m curious to understand better the role of women in the kitchen. Women have always belonged to this space and have been in charge of it — caring, loving, serving and I’ve wanted to understand the sorority relationship between women in this space, without the competition that has been created between men and women.”
— Maria Fernanda Barriga.

How does María Fernanda Barriga begin?

My mother died when I was barely 8 years old and I think she was a fundamental part of my passion for gastronomy, since I had to start cooking for myself. My dad bought food and I had to dive in at the deep end, sink or swim. I can remember very clearly trying to make a meat dish for the first time by watching a cooking channel. The reality of my dish was a long way from the TV version at first! But I kept on trying until I got it right.

María Fernanda studied at the Verde Oliva Culinary Academy in Bogotá. A few years later, she became Head Chef at Mugaritz in Spain, one of the top restaurants in the world, consistently inside the top 10 since 2006.

When they took this photo of me I couldn’t post it… I still didn’t believe this new reality I was living… I felt nervous, happy, excited and above all, I felt I wanted to give my role my all.

Now I feel it was both one of the most beautiful and one of the hardest experiences I’ve lived through. I feel lucky to have been at the right place at the right time. And above all, I was accompanied by one of the best people I’ve met in my life #eskerrikasko#universe.

Key Roles

María Fernanda tells us about her role in MashpiLab and her participation in the project’s long-term legacy.

She points out that her current role allows her to envision the potential that each product and its preparation has within the context of Ecuador’s Chocó Andino region, to appreciate community work, safeguard the stories of the people who interact in that community and view the value chain all the way from when you plant a seed through to the moment it reaches the table. A chain in which many hands are involved that, more often than not, remain invisible.

“MashpiLab is a gastronomic laboratory in which the value of food is explored and
highlighted from beginning to end. We focus on four axes: gastronomic value, social value, economic value and environmental value.”

— María Fernanda Barriga.

Life lessons through experiences

In the Chocó Andino, I was able to reconnect with the human side of gastronomy. All the more so since a North American couple who arrived in the region more than twenty years ago brought seeds from South East Asia that they then propagated. These grew well in the soils and climate of the Chocó and they are today bearing fruit. My job is therefore to promote and showcase everything the region produces, while never forgetting the importance of sustainability in all the products and their production.

Is there a special feminine power?

There is both masculine and feminine power, of course. No-one would deny that feminine power determines the life of the kitchens in our region and is also a key part of the culture in which we grew up. Here, there are women who go straight harvesting on their lands to cooking in their kitchens; they feed their families; travel to markets to sell. And it’s a heavy burden on these women, even though women have greater visibility in some fields.

A message 

Hard work and dedication can help you achieve your greatest ambitions. Some you might achieve, and some you may not — much will depend on you. Right now, I’m taking a break from the kitchen for a while, to explore more of my creative side, so I can return completely convinced and confident in what I am doing.

More at: Nueva Mujer

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