Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack from 'Muy Bueno Cookbook'
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack, 43, is the editor of 'Muy Bueno Cookbook,' a website filled with home-style Mexican recipes that are easy to prepare. But before she became a well-known food blogger, she had no idea what a blog was!
She spoke to MIMP about how a conversation at the dinner table with her 8-year-old daughter (at the time), led her to publish a cookbook with her mom and sister, and eventually become a self-employed entrepreneur despite being laid off in 2012.
Tell us a little bit about how you got started blogging:
In the spring through the summer of 2010, my mother was visiting frequently because she was helping me with my son who became ill with RSV (a respiratory virus). He had to be put on oxygen and we could not send him to daycare.
At the time, I was working full time in graphic design and marketing and had limited time off. While my mom helped with our son, she was also cooking for us. When my mom visits, I always crave the food I grew up with so everyday she would make my favorite dishes. One evening, my daughter, who was 8 at the time, suggested we write a cookbook. That’s when the light bulb went off. I started taking photos of every dish my mom made, scribbled the recipe out in a notebook, and posted photos on Facebook. It was my friend/photographer, Jeanine Thurston who suggested I start a blog. I had NO idea what a blog was. But since I was a graphic designer, I was on a mission to design one and start blogging.
How long have you been blogging? My first blog post was August 2010.
Have you always wanted to write about Mexican food?
Nope! I have always loved my heritage and I have an addiction to my family history. But when it came to cooking it was not something I loved or wanted to do as a profession.
You cowrote "Muy Bueno" with your family, but you created the "Muy Bueno" blog - correct? Tell us a little bit about how that works:
That’s a long story…When my daughter gave me the idea of writing a cookbook, I turned to my mom, and said, 'lets write a cookbook!' We were soooo excited about it and immediately started to brainstorm names. But nothing came to mind. Finally, on my way to work one day, I called my mom and said – call me if you come up with anything. A couple of hours later we were both calling each other at the same time. It was so weird, because I said, let’s say our name at the same time, and we both said: "muy bueno." We seriously started to cry! It was what my grandma always said! She always welcomed friends and family into her house to eat and would say “Siéntate a comer, esta muy bueno” (Sit down and eat, it’s very good).
My ultimate goal was to write a cookbook – hence the blog name – muybuenocookbook.com, but what I didn’t know was how I was going to do it. I started the blog as a place to share my recipes with friends and family before I published a cookbook. At first, I just figured I’d design a book myself and self publish, but as more folks found the blog they wanted the book too. The blog was basically a platform that reached an audience who wanted a published book.
A couple months after blogging by myself, I turned to my mom and said, "Let’s ask Ronnie (my sister) if she wants to write the cookbook with us." She had always talked about writing a cookbook, and I figured this would be the perfect family love story coming from the three of us. You can read more about that here: 'Welcome Veronica Gonzalez-Smith to Muy Bueno'
In the beginning, my sister blogged with me. My mom was the one behind the scenes making my grandma’s recipes and documenting them for the book.
My sister and I would take turns writing blog posts and developing our own modern recipes for the book. My sister and I became very close and had a lot of fun sharing our stories on the blog and writing the manuscript, but as you can imagine it was a lot of work and stressful at the same time. About six months after we were blogging we were getting branded opportunities. We had NO idea that you can make money blogging. We started working with brands like IMUSA and Avocados from Mexico and were getting invited to fabulous events and trips and getting lots of press. Again, no idea this would be possible.
I was then laid off from my job in the summer of 2012, right before our book was published in the fall. It was so scary, but thankfully I had blogging and made it a mission to make blogging my career. My sister was a full time teacher and before our book was published she moved to Germany.
Eventually, blogging became difficult for her to juggle with her move, job, time zone difference, and not to mention the lack of Mexican ingredients. She also fell in love with the European lifestyle and traveling and food blogging was not her passion, but of course we would always have the book.
Was it difficult to write your cookbook? What motivated you to pursue this dream? It was time consuming but not difficult. Our passion of our history and love of the dishes we grew up with was so motivating. We worked many hours, days, weekends, and holidays on it. We were very excited about it. It’s more than a cookbook. It’s our history. The book is filled with stories and memories of our childhood and the history of my grandma’s journey from Mexico to Texas during the Mexican revolution. It was also a healing journey – we cried many tears as we remembered so many beautiful stories.
Tell us a little bit about what it takes to write a cookbook - for others interested in doing something similar: It takes ganas. If you want it bad enough then that will motivate you.
How do you "self publish" a cookbook? Who are some people you would reach out to? Or is it literally - let's go to Kinkos and print these copies off for the family?
Initially, I was going to design it via Shutterfly.com and then I looked into options via Amazon. Amazon has createspace.com and I was seriously considering that idea until I realized it was going to be an investment. I didn’t want to have to pre-buy books, ship them, and have to try and get my books into retail stores.
How did you get in touch with a publishing company? Did you ever feel like it was an impossible dream? Did you have "moments"?
I pulled out every Mexican cookbook off my bookshelf and at libraries and researched all the publishers for each book. Back then you had to submit a portion of your manuscript and write a proposal and mail it (snail mail) to a publisher and wait for their reply. Then I found a couple publishers who accepted online proposals. One of the books I had on my bookshelf was by another El Paso author: Aprovecho. It’s a paperback book and completely black and white. I saw that the publisher is in New York, so figured I’d reach out to them. I figured since I was a graphic designer maybe I could design the book and we can publish a color book collaboratively. My motto has always been: It never hurts to ask. I sent an email to the publisher, introduced myself, and asked. To make a long story short they loved the idea. The cookbook was born… I was the graphic designer, my friend Jeanine was the photographer, and I was an “official” author along with my mom and sister.
When did you feel like you really started to become successful on a professional level?
When brands wanted to hire me as a brand ambassador, recipe developer, product tester, public speaker, and photographer.
When did you feel like you started to become successful on a financial level?
The definition of financial success is different for everybody. My goal was to make the same or more money than my job, which blogging has allowed me to do. It has opened many opportunities for me. I have traveled to places I probably wouldn’t have sitting in my cubicle.
What advice do you have for others looking to make it as food bloggers?
Don’t look at the competition, because there is a lot. Again I didn’t start a blog knowing it was going to be a business or to “make it as a food blogger”. I did it as a place to preserve my family’s recipes and eventually it grew.
What is your favorite recipe that you have developed on your own?
Oh gosh I have so many. Every time I develop a new recipe, I think, wow, this is my new favorite. These recent Carne Asada Fries are the bomb and inspired from a recent trip to San Diego. Also these tarts are inspired from a classic dish I grew up with but served with a modern twist.
What's your favorite recipe that Mom makes?
No doubt about it – Green Enchiladas.
What is your favorite recipe that Grandma made?
I have a thing for enchiladas, so I’m going to say her Red Cheese Enchiladas (recipe in the book) and flour tortillas.
What do you miss most about your grandmother in general?
Now you’re just gonna make me cry. I miss her everyday. Every time I cook I could honestly feel her presence. She loved the kitchen and sometimes I feel that she left me that energy and love of food and feeding family and friends. I miss the smell of her home and I miss holding her hand. I would sit next to her and just hold her hand. Her hands were so soft, but at the same time so strong. She lived to be 98 years old. She died in 2004. Oh how I wish she would have seen the printed "Muy Bueno" book, but I know that she is very proud of us. I feel it.
Do you miss living in El Paso?
I miss the culture and food of El Paso and of course miss my mommy who lives there. My mom visits me often and I visit her too, but no I don’t miss living there. My heart is now in Colorado with my hubby and our two children who were born here.
What are some of your kids favorite recipes?
My 7 year old son loves empanadas, especially pumpkin and my 13 year old daughter loves Cilantro Lime Rice. The recipe is in our cookbook and developed by my sister. My daughter is a great cook, and makes it all the time! She also loves anything and everything topped on a tostada but just last night she was asking me to make mole, so I’m looking forward to making mole with leftover turkey after Thanksgiving.
You mentioned you didn't like to cook in the past. Tell us more about that:
I was the one teased for not wanting to cook. My grandma would even tell me in Spanish that I’m not going to find a husband. I honesty hated to cook. I only liked to cook when I was entertaining for friends and family. It was until my grandma passed away that I realized I didn’t want her recipes to die with her and I started to cook more of my favorites for my children.
How did you learn to love cooking? And why is it important for you to pass down these recipes to your children?
When my grandmother passed away my mom asked me what I wanted from her. All I could think about was her rolling pin that she would make daily flour tortillas with. Come to find out my grandma had two – it’s as if it was meant to be. I got one and so did my sister. The baton was literally passed to us to continue the tradition and legacy of making homemade Mexican food for our families.
How do you teach your children about their background? Do you have any tips for other moms out there looking to do the same?
I always say that food ties us to our background. We all have special memories of certain dishes and I wanted those same memories for my children. I would just encourage moms to photograph their grandmas, and mothers in the kitchen. Oh how I wish I had more pictures of my grandma in the kitchen. And then I would suggest to start cooking those dishes yourself and see the happiness in your children's eyes. Food is very powerful! Like my grandma used to say, panza llena corazón contento.
We can tell you're busy! Any tips for time management? How do you "do it all"? Is there any secret?
I don’t do it all. My house is not as clean as I wish it were. And there are piles of laundry calling my name. Sometimes I’m grumpy at the amounts of work I have. I don’t exercise often or take much ‘me’ time as I probably should. I read about others who are able to balance it all, but for me its about juggling. And guess what, sometimes I drop a ball or two, but I try to do my best. Blogging is now my career and I have even co-authored a new book, Latin Twist. I travel a lot, but thankfully have an amazing husband and my mom who help me when I need it.
Describe Mexican food in three words: Memories, soulful, love
Describe Latin-fusion food in three words: Modern, creative, vibrant
Describe yourself using one of your recipes, which recipe would you say you are? Ayy yay yay, that’s a hard one. I’m gonna have to say my mom’s spicy green and creamy enchiladas. I’m addicted to spicy food – the hotter the better. I love the burn of the chile and then the relief of the buttermilk. It’s like a roller coaster ride. I guess I’m a natural sensation seeker.
Describe your mom using one of your recipes: My mom is anything baked. She is warm, fragrant, and comforting. I’m gonna have to say these heart-shaped strawberry empanadas.
Describe your sister using one of your recipes: My sister has a huge love of travel and anything and everything exotic and seasonal like figs and persimmons remind me of her. My sister loves to entertain and so I’m gonna say this delicious cheesy brie topped with figs and accompanied with wine and friends.
What is your ultimate goal in writing for your blog "Muy Bueno"? That’s a great question and I often ask myself. I wish I could predict what the future holds and what my love of Mexican food will bring. In the meantime, I will continue to share my stories and recipes via my blog and YouTube channel and eventually I’d love to write more books.
What do you hope to accomplish ultimately? Ultimately I’d love to write more books and have a cooking show where I can share my recipes with a larger audience. I’d love to travel more of Mexico! I’d love to teach young moms how to cook Mexican recipes that are healthy. Childhood obesity makes me very sad, and especially to see the majority of children who are obese are Latinos. Childhood obesity in the Hispanic population is growing faster than other segments of the population. Mexican food does not have to be unhealthy and I’d love to share that with more families.
Anything else we forgot to ask that you'd like to share? Phew, I feel like I just spilled my guts out. This was great therapy. Thank you for the opportunity. Keep doing what you are doing – highlighting folks that are proud of everything Mexico. Best wishes to you. Gracias!