Adán Medrano—Celebrating the Indigenous Cuisine of Texas and the Americas
“Work hard, depend on your love of cooking to sustain you. Always connect food to Mother Earth. You share beauty when you share food.”
CIA Alumni Bio
Chef Adán Medrano is a food writer, chef, and owner of JM Communications who specializes in the indigenous cuisine and cooking methods of Texas and the Americas. A 2010 graduate with a certificate in Culinary Arts from the CIA’s San Antonio campus, Chef Medrano spent 23 years working across Latin America, Europe, and Asia as a philanthropist distributing grants to non-profit educational and religious organizations for media programs and initiatives on behalf of European foundations. Through his work, Chef Medrano came to recognize the cultural importance of food. He returned to the U.S. to study at the CIA, further honing his skills and delving into the culinary traditions of the Mexican American, Native American communities of Texas, and the indigenous cooking of the Americas. Chef Medrano is the author of two books: Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage in Recipes and Don’t Count The Tortillas: The Art of Texas Mexican Cooking. He is the president of The Texas Indigenous Food Project and the founder of the San Antonio CineFestival, the first and now longest-running Latinx film festival in the U.S. Chef Medrano has lectured about food and culture at academic institutions and was invited by the U.S. Ambassador to Russia to the U.S. Embassy there to be the featured chef for the official 243rd celebration of U.S. Independence.
How did you come to the realization that your life would be in the food world?
From an early age I loved food and the connections it created between family and community. I grew up enjoying Texas Mexican food, the unique cuisine created by the first people who stepped onto Texas soil more than 15,000 years ago. And because I lived in both San Antonio, TX and northeastern Mexico, I developed my expertise in the flavor profile and techniques of indigenous Texas Mexican foods.
Why did you choose the CIA?
It was the most respected and credentialed cooking school that I could find. I was going to go to New York, but it happened that the San Antonio campus was opening, so I chose that campus.
How did the CIA prepare you for your chosen career?
It developed my cooking skills and techniques in a professional kitchen. It also made me aware of the importance of sharing culinary knowledge and celebrating every community’s culinary traditions.
What did you like best about your CIA experience?
The technical competencies like knife skills, teamwork, preparation, and scheduling gave me a solid foundation on which to build my career. I most enjoyed being among knowledgeable, passionate culinary professionals and sharing experiences with my fellow students.
What is the best lesson you’ve learned while at the CIA?
Collaboration—There are endless opportunities at the CIA. It’s all about connections. Get involved—The chef-instructors are always looking for volunteers for campus events. Go to demonstrations and talk to visiting chefs. The camaraderie—Developing real spirit in the kitchen with your team is an essential element of your education.
What class at the CIA had the most impact on you?
The course on Cuisine of the Americas was a wake-up call for me, showing that the opportunity exists in the culinary industry to celebrate the foods of Texan and Mexican indigenous peoples and to make the cuisine more well known. The CIA is at the forefront of new curriculum like The Anthropology and Archaeology of Food and Ancient Food in a Modern World—Latin American Crops in the Global Arena.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I am an author and my two books are about the art of cooking. Cuisine, divorced from culture, has no legs. I write about that, especially in my most recent book. I also love to travel on my book tours and share food tastings. Recently, I went to Russia and did a cooking demo for invited chefs of restaurants in Moscow. Forty chefs came to my cooking master class, The Fundamentals of Texas-Mexican Cooking.
What are some challenges that students may face in the industry?
They have to be careful not to let feelings of loneliness crowd you out. I rely on chefs who are just as passionate as me. Keep your friends, develop those relationships, and keep growing in your understanding of food as a bridge builder, a builder of beauty where eventually we will serve a table at which ALL are welcome. Create community and understanding by going beyond just technology and feeding.
What advice would you give to a new student or someone who is considering attending the CIA?
Work hard, depend on your love of cooking to sustain you. Learn the basics, always connect food to people and their histories. Always connect food to Mother Earth. You share beauty when you share food.