Born and bred in Venezuela, Alejandra Reader grew up in a typical enough South American fashion, surrounded by family, friends, amazing food…and Mexican telenovelas. “We grew up watching telenovelas when we were kids. Every day from 1pm to 5pm, you could lose the whole afternoon in the OTT drama and we loved it,” Reader exclaims. “Venezuelans love Mexico. Artists, musicians, food, culture, it’s very popular where I come from," she shares. Alejandra wasn’t a huge cook growing up, noting that street-food culture in South American, in general, is so vibrant and accessible that she never really thought about learning to cook. Surrounded by great food and generous cooks, food was always abundant and awesome.
“I was so homesick. And then it dawned on me, I’m going to need my food. If I can’t get the food I grew up with, how will I survive?”
Moving to London, where she fell in love with an Australian, Reader began to explore the world of food accessible in her new home town, but when she settled in Brisbane and got married, the reality of just how far she had travelled from her home town settled in. “I was so homesick. And then it dawned on me, I’m going to need my food. If I can’t get the food I grew up with, how will I survive?” she recounts.
Suddenly, the need to learn to cook became a dominating force in Reader’s life. “I started calling my family; my grandmother, my mother and father, they’d talk me through recipes on Skype and WhatsApp, and then I used every opportunity to learn. I returned to Venezuela for a short visit and went to classes, asked everyone around me to teach me. It was all so clear. To keep connected to my family all the way from Australia, I had to learn to cook for myself.”
Once she began to get the hang of it, Reader turned her hand to Mexican food. “My best friend in London was from Mexico and became my soul mate. When she returned to Mexico to live, I was devastated. When I started to cook, I knew I had to learn to cook Mexican. I love the culture, the food, the accent – we [Mexicans and Venezuelans] both speak Spanish, but the accent is so different. I love everything about Mexico!” she laughs.
Deciding she needed to master Mexican cooking, Reader quit her job in Brisbane, packed her bags and moved to Mexico for two months to do just that.
Visiting Mexico for the first time on her honeymoon, her love of Mexico came to life. “I was in my very own telenovela!”, she exclaims (Alejandra isn’t a wallflower in case you hadn’t worked that out yet!). Reader may have been on her honeymoon, but she was falling as hard for Mexico as she was for her new husband. Deciding she needed to master Mexican cooking, Reader quit her job in Brisbane, packed her bags and moved to Mexico for two months to do just that. “I followed all the Mexican food bloggers, I booked classes, I did so much research. When I got there, I travelled to all regions of Mexico. From Mexico City to Cancun, Oaxaca, all around. I realised I’d have to be there forever if I were to learn all I wanted to know, such is the Mexican way of preserving their culture and their heritage, it’s complex and rich. They are proud, the way they talk about their food, present it, sell it. The ingredients are so fresh, so special to each region, it’s so easy to fall in love with Mexican culture,” she gushes.
Reader’s love and depth of understanding when it comes to Mexican cuisine and culture won her a new friend in co-finalist Maria on The Chefs’ Line, and on some level validated her clear passion for the culture she has claimed as part of herself. “Not a lot of people know my country, here in Australia; I am Latina, but Australians are starting to learn more about Mexico and Mexican culture, so after The Chefs’ Line, I don’t think I’d mind if people thought of me as Mexicana instead!”
Have we got your attention and your tastebuds? The Chefs’ Line airs every weeknight at 6pm on SBS followed by an encore screening at 9.30pm on SBS Food Network. Episodes will be available after broadcast via SBS On Demand. Join the conversation #TheChefsLine on Instagram @sbsfood, Facebook @SBSFood and Twitter @SBS_Food. Check out sbs.com.au/thechefsline for episode guides, cuisine lowdowns, recipes and more!