Sunday, November 29, 2009


As a Latin American it is always refreshing to see that our community is growing and becoming more respected in the multicultural city of Toronto. I say Latin American because I don’t think I could say I’m 100% Mexican anymore. After having the opportunity of knowing people from countries like Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, and Argentina I now think that I feel more Latin than just Mexican. My vocabulary (even my accent!) is a mix of Colombian, Venezuelan and Mexican words. I enjoy their music, food and culture as if they were mine.

Quite differently to what people might think, even when we all Latin Americans share Spanish as a language, our culture and lifestyles are not the same so we have plenty to share and learn! I have to say that I love the way Colombians and Venezuelans see life, they are happy people. They laugh, dance and enjoy life like there’s no tomorrow and they welcome Mexicans as family.

When we arrived to Canada almost seven years ago, we got to Montreal at the same time as this wonderful Venezuelan couple with whom we became best friends. Besides sharing our first steps in our new country we had the opportunity to know their cheerful culture and their delicious food. Ale and Freddy introduced us to a side of our Latin culture that we didn’t know and to the luscious world of the arepa.

Arepas are made of corn and they look like a super thick tortilla. They are more like patties and can be grilled or baked (we have a similar thing in Mexico called Gorditas only that these are fried). There are many variations of the arepa according to their place of origin but I have to say my favourite is the Venezuelan (yes mi pana!)

So now you will understand my excitement when I saw there was a place called Arepa Cafe opening soon in Queen Street West. As a business owner I love to check out new concepts and I have to say that this place gets a straight A (or 10 for the Latin American community).

Arepa Cafe, is a Venezuelan eatery where you’ll find the most popular types of arepas from the famous Reina Pepiada (chicken and avocado) to the Pernil (roasted pork with caramelized onions and cheese). Another delight is a type of finger food called Tequeños which are cheese strips covered with bread dough that make them look like breadsticks. These are deep fried and come with a side of “guasacaca” (an avocado spread very similar to the Mexican guacamole).
My favourites were the Avocado and Queso Fresco arepa and the Cachapa (a corn pancake with fresh cheese). Both were fresh and light and a perfect option for a tasty vegetarian meal. For dessert we had the Quesillo that is very similar to what we know as a flan or crème brûlée, it was really yummy! They also sell soups, sandwiches, coffee and what they call batidos (fresh fruit juices).

We had the chance to meet Eduardo Lee, one of the owners. He was a delight! He explained to us a little bit about the concept and made us feel totally welcomed. Eduardo has a degree in environmental design and many years experience in the restaurant industry and it shows. The minimalist, chic and retro decor with the authentic and cool music reflect the modern Venezuelan culture (and I would say Latin American reality) or as he calls it “Venezuelan urbanity”.
The excellent quality of the food, the warm and nice ambience with accessible prices and a self service formula make Arepa Café a perfect Cheap and Chic place!

Congratulations, Eduardo and Mark! You’re doing a great job. I’ll spread the word and I hope your place becomes an inspiration for other talented Latin Americans with great ideas.

Wow, it feels so good to be Latin! Believe me, this was CHEVERE!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The September Issue & My Own Issues!

The September Issue is a movie that shows the fascinating and sometimes controversial worlds of fashion and publishing. I have to say that for me it only brought some of the best memories of my life and reminded me of some of the most precious and talented women that I have ever met.

I worked for the publishing industry for 8 years and I can only say that there’s a Vivian before and after that. It changed me forever in the best ways. This experience besides being the most exciting of my life made me a more confident and independent woman, gave me a different perspective of the world and made me think outside the box.

When I started working at the publishing house I was coming from a marketing background and a very technical company (Ericsson). At that time I was looking to work in a more creative place doing public relations. So when Toni, the editor in chief for Tu Magazine contacted me for an interview it was a dream come true! The reality is that I didn’t know what I was getting into. So when I was asked to go for an interview I dressed into my best suit and showed up with my most professional and serious attitude.

When I got there I was completely surprised to see this different world where being laidback, fun and original were the keys to success. I remember feeling totally out of place with my slick outfit and attitude (LOL). After my first interview I was asked to write three articles for the magazine (a title dedicated to girls from 12 to 18 years old). I was sooo excited because my passion for writing was going to become a reality. I wrote the required texts and a week later I was already part of the team. I couldn’t believe what was happening! I was not only going to work in the most important publishing house in Latin America (Editorial Televisa) but in one of their most important and profitable titles (Revista TU).

With a bachelor degree in marketing I quite never thought that this would become real. I discovered my passion for writing when I was 8 years old after I wrote a short story about a girl with a magic finger for a writing contest at my school in 3rd grade. I won the 3rd place so that totally encouraged me to keep writing short stories that I would only read to my mom. I was too shy to share them with my whole family or friends. During the next years at school I enjoyed everything related with writing articles, essays, poems, etc. But when it was time to choose a career I think Mexico’s reality pushed me to go for something more corporate and business oriented like marketing which is also something that I really like and that definitely has given me the skills to accomplish a lot of dreams in my life like opening a restaurant.

But the magic started the day that I began working for Tu Magazine. With no experience at all in this industry I was in charge of more than the third part of the editorial content. I remember that during my first day I had my first interview already. I was so nervous! I grabbed a borrowed tape recorder and drove to meet this Latin American singer called Emanuel Ortega. He was launching his first album so he was as nervous as me. We even shared our stories and laughed during the whole interview about the fact that we both were two completely beginners. That day I had so much fun that I knew I was on the right path and in fact after that moment a cascade of unbelievable events began to happen.

I started meeting and interviewing national and international celebrities. Names that went from Hanson to Christina Aguilera. I had from the best experiences like interviewing one of my favourite actresses, Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins & The Sound of Music) to the worst phoner (phone interview) with Matthew McConaughey which was a stressfull phone call that cut off like 10 times in 15 minutes and put him and his manager in the worst of the moods (I just remember the shaking of my voice and body while his manager could just yell and blame me for the troubled call).

I had the chance to travel and cover set visits, junkets, and incredible events like the season finale of Dawson’s Creek in N.Y. or the launching of the first Britney Spears movie in New Orleans where I had the chance to meet a shy and sweet Britney. I met intelligent and fun people like Kirsten Dunst, Anne Hathaway, James Marsden, Mena Suvari, Jack Black, Mandy Moore, James Franco and Shakira and lost and sad like Jessica Simpson. I used to stay at the same hotels as these celebrities so I shared elevators with people like Toni Collette or Macaulay Culkin and learned that some of them were as ordinary as me.

The most ironic part of this is that the more celebrities you meet the more down to earth you get and the more you value your common life. I never asked for an autograph or a picture (well, I’m lying since I only did it with my idol Julie Andrews!). You just get so used to this world that you learn that these celebrities usually are as ordinary as your co-workers so putting them in such a pedestal feels weird! The funny thing is the more famous they became the more humble and educated they were.

I’ve been kind of feminist since I was born (you can ask my mother, I was looking for equality since I was in her womb LOL!) and the fashion and publishing industries are just inspiring since they are mostly ruled by powerful and passionate women. A lot of people would think that it's one of the vainest worlds but after my experience I can only say that I became a more human and caring person. You travel and meet so different people and places that it's impossible not to evolve into a more conscious individual.

I had the honour of working with two of the most amazing women I have ever known. Toni Salamanca, now editor in chief for Harper’s Bazaar Mexico and Susana Ogando, now editor in chief for Eres Magazine. These two incredible, creative and intelligent women showed me everything about passion, hard work and ethic. They were not only committed to their title but to their readers. In this case, little girls looking for answers that went from the triviality of what to wear to the complexity of what to do during an unexpected pregnancy or a profound depression. They taught me things that have been precious in my personal life and as a business owner. And just like them there's a list of wonderful women that I had the pleasure to meet.

I’m just grateful for this incredible opportunity of having been able to share my thoughts, insights and experiences and probably make a difference in teenagers living in more than 15 countries all over Latin America including the Latin community in the U.S. I totally miss it and in fact this feeling is the fuel for this blog.

Lately, there has been an obsession from the media with the fashion and publishing industries and I totally understand it, they are magical, intriguing and unique worlds. But there’s more than angry and cold women, there’s a group of people interested in making some changes in the world through the power of word. The September Issue is more than a movie about fashion, it's a film that shows that there’s more than ads in a magazine. There’s vision, passion, intelligence, a lot of hard work and an ideal to make the world a better place.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Close encounter of the protein type

One of the first questions that I get when people know that I’m a vegetarian is: “So, where do you get your protein from?!?!” (Don’t forget to read it with surprise and a little bit of panic). At the beginning of the process I was as panicked as them and I really didn’t know what to say. My first answer was: “Cheese!” (Like if I was smiling big time for a picture LOL). At that point I knew that I would have to do something about it not only to have a good answer but for having good health. I started reading and finding out that there were plenty of ways to get protein in a vegetarian and delicious way.

I’ve been eating a lot of legumes and nuts like lentils, beans, almonds, walnuts and peanut butter. But this week I decided that it was time to go further and start experimenting with totally new ingredients. So after hearing a lot about this pseudocereal I decided it was time to finally welcome quinoa to my diet. Quinoa’s nutritional value is so rich and special that even the NASA and the UN are including it in their projects under the label of “super food” and “super crop”. It has more protein than any other grain (between 12% to 18% compared with 7.5% for rice) and contains a balanced set of essential amino acids.

I got it from my regular market and found it in an organic version which made it even more attractive. Since this was my first close encounter with this pseudocereal I decided to go with a really easy recipe and cook it just like rice. Instead of the recommended amount of water, to give it a little bit more flavour I decided to put half water and half organic vegetable stock. I like to mix as many vegetables as possible to try to get as many nutrients as I can so while cooking it I added some chunky home made salsa roja (with onions and chiles) and some corn. Thirty minutes later I had a delicious and really healthy meal. It looked pretty much like couscous but with super powers!

The flavour is so similar to rice while the texture is a funny and almost unbelievable combination between soft and crisp. Definitely a versatile main dish that will become a favourite in my food repertoire.

It’s funny to think that only because you decided to eat in a different way to the majority of people you should put more attention to what you eat. The truth is that everyone should do the same. Not because you eat meat means that your health is in good shape. Usually meat eaters consume very little vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds making it a less balanced diet. So be adventurous and try this “super food”. I can’t guarantee you’ll get "super powers" but at least you’ll feel suuuper good!