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Daily Inspiration: Meet Marquita Pizarro

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marquita Pizarro.  

Marquita, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
It was the Summer of 2008, when my mother and father went on a trip to Clarinda, Iowa to watch my older brother’s baseball games. Upon their return, my mother’s health took a turn for the worse. As I watched my father help my mother out of the car, a woman who was “independently functioning” just the week before, could now barely walk. The memories of the epitome of her innate strength, now looking feeble, left me numb and in disbelief. Several weeks later, my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. At the time of her diagnosis, I was a sophomore at Walnut Hills High School. This monumental moment led me to begin to overprocess my future, and cry between classes, whilst trying to figure out ways to cure my mother. Unfortunately, my grades began to slip and my interests in extracurricular and social activities declined as well.

Nevertheless, one day after school, I remember watching TV in my room, and countless Food Network commercials and culinary schools were heavily advertised. At that moment, I knew more than ever what I wanted to do. I was determined to obtain a degree in Culinary Arts and Nutrition, develop a natural cure for my mother, and in my naivety, completely heal her ailments through food.

After receiving my Bachelor of Science in Culinary Nutrition with a concentration in Food Science from Johnson & Wales University, I quickly realized that my mom was amongst millions of others wishing for a cure. After years of working in the culinary and hospitality field, I used my expertise and The Swank Diet to reduce her symptoms and help my mother get off her medication (for three years). My mom’s illness was influential to my career and daily life. Her journey fuels the inspiration for many of the meals I “qreate.” In 2019, after working a decade in the culinary industry, and three years in the food science field as a Food Scientist, and Recipe Developer/Researcher, I started my personal chef business, “Culinary Qreations.” My mission was to have families have a restaurant experience at home. My catering services highlight eclectic seasonings, nutrient-dense ingredients, Caribbean-soulful cuisine, and classical French training. Starting off, I began cooking in people’s homes for celebratory events and for specific dietary needs. At the time, many organizations including Queens Village, Cradle Cincinnati, Great Cincinnati Foundation (organizations that help underserved minority families in Greater Cincinnati) asked Culinary Qreations to cater their events. Furthermore, I also created specialized cuisines for a retired NFL player, and affluent clients in Greater Cincinnati.

After, I graduated from MORTAR in 2019 (a minority entrepreneurship training program in Cincinnati) a year later, the pandemic happened. At the time, there were so many unknowns, and I did not know if it was safe for me to continue my business. I did not want to bear the thought of bringing the virus home since I was still a caregiver for my mother. I started to slow down my in-home services and created “to-go” options such as: “Pique,” a Caribbean hot sauce inspired by my Puerto Rican husband, and dishes inspired by my mother’s Jamaican roots, specialty cheesecakes, and cakes for special occasions.

Amid doubt and uncertainty, a friend of my mom called her and hastily told me to apply for a job at a local trade school that emphasizes innovative career training to empower individuals and communities. I was very thankful, yet doubtful that I would qualify for the role. Well, now, I am the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Instructor for Scarlet Oaks Career Campus. My culinary journey and personal struggles were all purposeful to help me positively influence my students and my community as well.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I have served in many roles throughout my career, from a Chef, Food Scientist, Recipe Developer, and Entrepreneur, and within each role, I have always been the minority. It is not easy proving to your peers that you are worth it and well-deserving to sit at the table. The Food Science industry has been the most brutal industry throughout my professional experiences. Constantly, I was challenged professionally and emotionally (e.g., microaggressions, prejudice, age-bias) in a white, male-dominated field. Lastly, it is without question that many of us will not have a smooth road to success, but our experiences are a testimony to those who watch us closely. I do not regret any challenge I have experienced. My challenges have blessed both my present and future endeavors as well.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
During my Food Science roles, I have had the ability to develop/enhance recipes and processes for countless multi-million-dollar fast-food operations, foodservice operations, and privately owned food and beverage brands. Many people do not know that the foods and beverages they consume are created by Food Scientists.

Currently, I am the Culinary Arts Instructor for Scarlet Oaks Career Campus. Scarlet Oaks is a high school where juniors and seniors can learn a trade that will help them post-graduation go directly into the workforce, the military, or college. I teach my students the fundamentals of food, critical thinking skills, baking and pastry competency, restaurant management, and hospitality. My goal is to continue my business (Culinary Qreations) during school breaks and continue to provide dining experiences that meet my customers’ needs. I love “qreating” specialized dishes and menu options that excite one’s palate through presentation and flavor. Given the circumstances, I am most proud of surviving life’s many curveballs, and pressing forward to new horizons. Ultimately, you can say that I am equipped with all the “factors of resilience.”

Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us?
One important lesson that I have learned is to network because sometimes, “It isn’t about what you know, it’s about who you know.” It may sound cliché, but it is true. I have learned that many times I am more than qualified than my peers, but it takes the right person to value your craft. I have also learned it is important to guard your personal and business endeavors because the ones who may appear supportive may be the very same individuals plotting for your demise. Lastly, respect everyone you meet no matter who you think they are. The next interaction or observation of “who you are” can determine your future or launch you into what is next!

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