This year, we teamed up with taco journalist Mando Rayo to cover one of the most important celebrations of Mexican culture: Día de los Muertos. He traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, to participate in the festivities and capture the details for this feature.
The smell of empanadas baking in the oven. The confident, graceful presence of Abuelita and Mami. That first lesson on how to add filling to discs of dough and pinch them closed with a fork. Sweet Life Food Blogger Vianney Rodriguez remembers it all.
Rodriguez first became interested in cooking at a young age after watching and helping her abuelita and mami in the kitchen. They were cocineras—home cooks who shared their love through comida. And Rodriguez wanted nothing more than to be a part of their world.
As a first generation Mexican American growing up in South Texas, Rodriguez’s Tejano roots played a major role in shaping her identity as a cocinera.
“Being Tejano is a beautiful blending of two cultures. Tejanos I feel live in their own wonderful world. We have our own special music, comida, dance, culture and even language, all rooted in the culture of Texas,” Rodriguez explained. “The valley lemon, watermelon, pecans, chiles, the fajita, brisket, the queso—I grew up with this culture, and it has become a huge part of my life and my table.”
But that wasn’t a culture Rodriguez saw reflected in food blogger space in 2009.
As a young mother homeschooling her daughters, Rodriguez discovered cooking blogs and immediately fell in love.
“The stories, memories and recipes—they were mini love letters to food. But the more blogs I read, the more I noticed that while all the stories were beautiful, they didn’t resonate with me. Where were the stories, recipes of tías, tíos, abuelitos? Where were the dishes my mami cooked for us growing up?” Rodriguez said. “I shared this with my husband over dinner one evening, and he simply replied, ‘Why don’t you start a blog, share your recipes, your plates?’ And I did, the very next week.”
Rodriguez purchased a light box set up and started out shooting dishes in her tiny apartment after she put her girls to bed at night. She had no idea what she was doing when she started Sweet Life, but her heart was happy.
She focused on sharing recipes inspired by her childhood and experiences cooking with her own daughter as she got older. And over the years, her blog took off, leading her to write two cookbooks—Latin Twist and The Tex-Mex Slow Cooker—and host her own cooking show on the IDENTITY Channel, The Tex-Mex Queen.
“I was blown away by the love of my comida. I truly have the best job. I love sharing my dishes, from fideo to tamales—comida y amor,” Rodriguez said. “My culture is in every aspect of my work. I want my children to learn, live and share their heritage. I want my readers to see who I am, where I am from and the beauty of my culture.”
While Rodriguez has turned her passion into a full time job, she still makes time to do what got her into cooking in the first place: creating special experiences for family and friends over a meal.
“A DIY cocktail bar is my go-to when hosting. Guests can shake their own paloma up, and I’m free to enjoy the evening,” Rodriguez said. “I thought marinating fajitas with the same flavors would be delicious, and boy was I right—my family gobbled them up. I make them often now; tequila pairs perfectly with chicken.”
And just as those special moments with family helped inspire Rodriguez’s own love of food, they’ve helped inspire her daughter’s passion for cooking as well.
“She wanted to learn, taste, cook everything from Mexican to Tex-Mex to Asian food,” Rodriguez said. “She also played a huge role in pushing myself to learn more, try new techniques and embrace new foods, new dishes, new cuisines. She graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and now is paving her own road in the kitchen in Austin.”
You can keep up with Vianney Rodriguez and learn what she’s up to next here.
Feel the excitement of cheering on the USA with the American Outlaws.