Food historian Maite Gomez-Rejon combines art and culinary history – Advice Eating

Texas native Maite Gomez-Rejón thought she would be an artist growing up, but what she almost didn’t realize until it actually happened was that her medium would be food. Gomez-Rejón is a first-generation Mexican raised in the border town of Laredo, Texas by free-spirited parents. When she decided to study studio art at the University of Texas, it seemed like a natural continuation of her upbringing, which would develop into a career dedicated to cooking through the arts.

Gomez-Rejón majored in art history, and after earning a master’s degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she eventually moved to New York City, where she worked in education at both the MET and MOMA and eventually attended the cooking school at the famous French cooking school. During culinary school, she realized that food is her true passion.

While her Mexican mother gave her a head start as a child by introducing her to a variety of cuisines from different cultures, it was a chance connection with a cookbook she came across in a museum that helped her fully appreciate this food and art understanding and history are inextricably linked.

“Food is a perfect way into a culture,” says Gomez-Rejón HipLatina. “I love the social aspect of sharing a meal with people, the togetherness that brings. But I’m also fascinated with exploring centuries of trade routes and policies simply by picking apart individual ingredients on your own plate or reading between the lines of historic cookbooks. There is always so much to learn and eat.”

She founded ArtBites in 2007 to educate people about food and cooking by “exploring the nexus of art and culinary history” through lectures, cooking classes and tastings at museums across the country. Gomez-Rejón regularly writes essays and articles on culinary history for various publications including the Food publications, Life & Thyme and eaten.

She combines certain artworks, time periods and even historical cookbooks that she considers to be works of art, including the very first cookbook by a Mexican woman – that of Vicenta Torres de Rubio Cocina Michoacana (1986). Gomez-Rejón digs deep into history to find out why people cooked and ate the way they did in different eras of history. She finds the connections between food trends and preferences and what was going on in society, and uncovers how societal and cultural norms affect how and what people eat.

“The food we eat is closely intertwined with our culture. Culinary history can give us a deeper understanding of our roots and a sense of community and identity.”

Over the past 15 years, Gomez-Rejón has had quite a successful career with ArtBites, working on various series with museums such as LACMA and the Huntington Library in California. Most recently, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, located in Los Angeles, dedicated entirely to honoring Mexicans, Mexican Americans and all of LA’s Latino communities

“It’s so important to learn about history. to celebrate history. There are so many ingredients from Latin America that have changed the world. There is such a rich history to understand native ingredients and to understand colonialism and the horrors of colonialism.”

“The bad stuff is the stuff introduced after the conquest. The more you know, the more you understand and the more open you are,” Gomez-Rejón says of the perception that Latin American food is unhealthy. It’s an idea that has led many, particularly in the US, to abandon their cultural and ancestral foods in favor of eating “healthier,” when in reality our authentic, traditional cuisine is nutritious.

During the pandemic, Gomez-Rejón was able to transform her business model and began offering online lectures and cooking classes, which ultimately broadened her audience and allowed her to share her extensive knowledge and expertise with far more people.

While she’s happy to be teaching in person again, Gomez-Rejón acknowledges that she’s now armed to make her classes more accessible to people who don’t necessarily have the time or even the money to attend in-person demos and speaking engagements. She does this in part by connecting with other chefs, artists, and historians with similar missions. In fact, she was recently working on a project with baker and activist Melanie Lino, who she spoke to HipLatina about her involvement in the Bakers Against Racism initiative in February 2022.

Now Gomez Rejón can actually reach some of the marginalized communities that have an incredibly rich food culture and history by offering online and private classes. In fact, she currently offers a children’s cooking class on the history of corn and Mexican cuisine, a class on Mesoamerican chocolate and vanilla, and a class on food and the Harlem Renaissance.

But not only does her work capture the attention of foodies, artists and historians, she has also taught and collaborated with Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer and Latinx TV star, director and producer Eva Longoria. She co-hosts a food history podcast with Longoria called: Hungry for history Beginning this fall.

As a food historian, Gomez-Rejón believes that food – cuisine – is something that can truly unite us all, because of course… we all need to eat. Food is the way, because through it we can come to an understanding, even an appreciation, of each other’s history, culture and experiences: the things that make us who we are can all be associated with food, and we can learn about things together, over a great meal, and that’s very special. Here at HipLatina, we can only agree. Food – Food art, food history and just, well…cooking and eating good food are totally worth the time and effort.

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