Food & Wine Classic weekend: Susie Jimenez, a chef in the spotlight | AspenTimes.com

Food & Wine Classic weekend: Susie Jimenez, a chef in the spotlight

Susie Jimenez

Celebrity chef Susie Jimenez retired from her peach-picking career at the not-so-ripe age of 16.

But Jimenez, who has hosted private parties throughout the Food & Wine Classic weekend, was a seasoned picker by that time, having worked in the fields since she was 5.

"(My family) would wake up at 3 in the morning because it was an hour drive to the fields," Jimenez said.

She explained that the work had to start early thanks to the sweltering afternoon heat in her Central California home.

Jimenez and her sisters also had to pack their bags, which included a bandanna, tube of sunscreen and lunch.

Though Jimenez doesn't miss her hot, muggy days laboring the pacific fruit fields, she is eternally grateful for the experience.

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"Anything after the fields is the most easy thing in the world," she said. "My husband is like, 'You work all the time,' and I'm like, 'This is nothing; try picking peaches for 12 hours in the hot sun.'"

Born and raised in Central Valley, California, Jimenez's interest in the kitchen began early. By age 9, she was preparing her own dishes, and by 10, she was playing with intricate dishes such as ceviche.

Jimenez's mother and father were born and raised in a region south of Mexico City called Michoacan, and they later migrated to California.

As a little girl, Jimenez remembers watching her mother and her grandmother harvest their own corn to make masa for homemade tamales and tortillas.

"It was so inspiring to see them grow their own foods," she said.

Jimenez's Mexican roots are one of the main inspirations behind her Latin-inspired cooking.

Jimenez said she describes her food as Latin-inspired because traditional Mexican recipes are not to be altered, and she enjoys experimenting with different spices and flavors to create a more modern Latin fare.

After working a few odd jobs — including as an ice-cream server at Baskin Robbins and an assistant at a chiropractor's office – Jimenez attended culinary school in San Francisco when she was 21.

After culinary school, she moved to Aspen "for the summer," as she knew friends from culinary school who did the same.

Fifteen years later, Jimenez is still in the valley, though she's made a name for herself both locally and internationally.

At 36, the Latina chef boasts a culinary resume as lengthy as it is impressive.

Some of Jimenez's career highlights include opening her own catering business in 2005, writing a monthly food column in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and hosting food-related shows on a variety of platforms, including the Sportsman's Channel, The Food Network and the local radio channel KNFO.

"She is willing and able to do it all," said Clay Wallin, who works Jimenez as CEO of digital lifestyle magazine HipLatina. "There's no denying her culinary expertise in and around the kitchen and with food."

He compared Jimenez — who's filmed nearly 20 cooking episodes for HipLatina in the past year — to an energizer bunny.

"She's infectious," he said. "Her energy is measurable when you're near her, and it shows on camera."

Scott Leysath, who hosts and produces a show on the Sportsman's Channel where Jimenez is a regular contributor, echoed Wallin's sentiment.

"The energy is apparent," Leysath said. "Susie runs circles around me."

erobbie@aspentimes.com

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