cooks at home

LATINA FLAVOR

Estela Gutierrez gives her all in the kitchen and community.

WRITTEN BY SUE EDMONDSON
PHOTOS BY CHRIS HOLLOMAN

cookshome latina flavor

When Estela Gutierrez cooks, she’s a whirlwind. In fact, her usually perfectly organized kitchen looks a bit, well, as if a tornado struck.

“I’m not a neat cooker,” Gutierrez admits. “My husband (Jesse Gutierrez) asks why I can’t cook in one little area. But when I cook I feel free — it’s like I’m dancing, and I don’t want to be confined.”

Her love of cooking stems from childhood, when as the eldest of three she was second in command in the kitchen, taught by her mother, aunts, and grandmother to make the family’s meals.

“I’m grateful they took me under their wings,” she says. “Thanks to them, I can cook everything Mexicano. My mom says my cooking is the best, that it has the right sazón. It’s the flavor, the oomph, that makes the food taste so good.”

When she describes the pleasures of cooking for friends and family (she and Jesse love to entertain), she smiles, laughs, and gestures, the passion evident. Still, it’s a fraction of the passion she expresses for her work in education and volunteering in the community.

The journey

College wasn’t a word in Gutierrez’s childhood vocabulary. The daughter of migrant farm workers, she grew up picking fruit alongside her father. Although she knew she didn’t want to do that type of work for the rest of her life, it wasn’t until she met a counselor (Carlos Gonzales) through a program for students of migrant workers, California’s Migrant Education Program, that she envisioned a potential alternative.

“The day I met Mr. Carlos Gonzales is when my journey really began,” she says. “I believed him when he said there was more to life than just working in the fields. I decided I wanted to help other students the way he helped me. I knew I wanted to become a counselor and go into education because that was the key.”

Inspired, she started at community college, ultimately obtaining a master’s in educational counseling.

Community organizer

Gutierrez never dreamed she’d influence so many children and their families. She’s done so not only as an educational counselor at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno for 24 years (including in her present position as vice president of student services), but also through her community work. The list of her accomplishments is extraordinary — Washoe County School Board Trustee from 2008-2014; co-founder (with her husband) of Mariposa Academy, the area’s only bilingual charter school; volunteer for dozens of organizations; and an integral part of the Hispanic community, including playing a crucial role in program development at Nevada Hispanic Services.

“For the last 24 years, I don’t think I’ve stopped one minute,” she says. “But I don’t have any regrets. My passion is making sure kids pursue higher education, that they obtain a career of some sort. When I watch children grow into successful adults, it’s worth more than gold to me.”

Which is why she’s not ruling out a future role in education-related public service.

“I’m just out of the public eye for now,” she says. “But after retirement, we’ll see. There’s so much more to do.”

Freelance writer Sue Edmondson has written for various publications in Northern Nevada and Northern California. She wishes she could bottle Gutierrez’s joie de vivre in the kitchen.

Recipe

Chile Verde Pork

(courtesy of Estela Gutierrez. Serves 4)

Gutierrez sends this recipe with a caveat.

“Never ask a Latina for a recipe!” she says. “It’s a pinch of this, a bit of that. Everything is to taste.”

Make sauce first.

Sauce

8 fresh green tomatillos

6 jalapeños, stems removed (Note: Use fewer jalapeños for a less fiery sauce)

1 bunch cilantro

½ onion

1 tablespoon fresh garlic

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1½ tablespoons chicken bouillon powder

Remove outer leaves of tomatillos and rinse. Place tomatillos and jalapeños in pot. Add water to cover and boil for 30 minutes. Scoop out tomatillos and jalapeños, reserve water. Put tomatillos and jalapeños in blender and add cilantro, onion, garlic, cumin, and chicken bouillon powder. Blend. Mixture should be consistency of salsa. Add reserved water as needed to reach desired consistency.

Pork

1½ to 2 pounds boneless pork ribs, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 tablespoon fresh garlic

1 tablespoon chicken bouillon powder

3 tablespoons olive or other oil

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over high heat. Quickly add spices and stir. Brown and then reduce heat and simmer for an hour. Remove any juices from skillet, add 1/3 tablespoon of oil and brown further. Stir in chile verde sauce and simmer for about 10 minutes on low.

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