Leticia Moreinos Schwartz: Chef, Food Advocate, Media Goddess
Despite the retro image of women as cooks and mistresses of the kitchen, within the food industry, women, particularly women of color are only slowly making their mark as chefs, restauranteurs, food innovators, food justice and healthy food advocates. Sure, women are in kitchens and we have our classic poster ladies for elaborate Thanksgiving meals, duck l'orange in 25 steps, and elegant soul food cooking (thanks Martha, Julia, and B. Smith) or farmhouse style dumplings and vegan nacho cheese dip? (go Molly and Sophia). Leticia Moreinos Schwartz however, is the embodiment of the foodie change-maker - writer, chef, NBC TV correspondent, business savvy woman, spokesperson, and advocate. Her versatility is enviable and striking as she has crafted a multi-layered social impact career that serves up delicious dishes, insights, and healthy food twists that are nutritious and culturally rich in flavor and tradition.
When I reached out to Leticia to profile her, I was pleasantly surprised that she not only responded but that she was eager to speak to me. I’m not easily starstruck but I was a wee bit giddy with her multi-talented cool. I'm multi-passionate and like my food and work to be a fusion style, and I was more than a tad impressed with her ability to make beautiful sense of industries that don't always have room for women. Leticia and I talked for hours - I kid you not. And while our conversation was over the phone, you’d think we were at a cafe table leaning in over on lattes or tapas. She is warm, intelligent, worldly, cultured and incredibly normal. A wife, a mom, daughter and I imagine a terrific friend. Her Girl Boss persona is more communal and collaborative than hierarchal. Her leadership is kind, expansive, and inclusive.
Like Martha Stewart, Leticia’s career shifted from finance to cooking. Born in Brazil, she grew up thinking of the traditional professions to pursue like business; unaware that there were culinary career options, especially for women. Great at maths, economics was a natural path which led her to work in New York City. Her passion for cooking, however, was alive, and later while navigating her finance career, she expressed her foodie ways through cooking for both friends and colleagues. She later discovered another outlet for her culinary explorations studying culinary and pastry arts as a student in the prestigious French Culinary Institute (now International Culinary Center). This lead to incredible hands-on training at world-renown restaurants - Le Cirque 2000, La Grenouille, La Caravelle, and Payard Patisserie and Bistro.
A life-long learner, Leticia returned to the International Culinary Center and studied journalism. Her willingness to take on new topics and industries has contributed to her savvy as a writer, advocate, and teacher. Her cookbooks and TV segments on healthy Latin cooking are just a few of the platforms where she generously shares knowledge while also discovering new ways to create impact. Leticia has also been the spokesperson for America’s Diabetes Challenge for the last 6 years. For Leticia, the connection between traditional Latin cuisine, nutrition and diabetes awareness and prevention is personal and practical. Her grandfather suffers from Type 2 Diabetes and the potential for becoming diabetic is prevalent in her family and many others, especially those in the Black and Brown community.
Through Leticia’s cookbooks (My Rio de Janeiro, and The Brazilian Kitchen) and recipes, readers and home chefs journey through villages, cultures, and traditions ranging from an afternoon tapas party to Passover dinner. Her latest book, “Latin Superfoods: 100 Simple, Delicious, and Energizing Recipes for Total Health” is a go-to-resource for easy to cook healthy dishes that are yummy!!!!! One of my faves, Spinach Soup with Egg Salad (we’ll share that out with you soon…), is easy, refreshing and the ingredients can be easily found in most city farmer's markets. It’s great for me and my family and the urban agricultural economy.
Through her advocacy, she does more than offer health education. She offers an extended community of understanding and support. Health, wellness and food choices are deeply personal and cultural. When her eating and cooking habits began to incorporate healthier substitutions and alternative techniques, she got a bit of push back. There is a “stigma around embracing a new lifestyle and diets, especially when it’s connected to identity”. At family gatherings or social occasions, she’d get the usual “why are you trying to be someone you’re not” side-eye comments. It was hard to have to explain to everyone why she was making specific food choices. “Conversely, if you have Diabetes, you are stigmatized - damned if you do, and damned if you don’t”. This is largely why, as a spokesperson and producer, A Touch of Sugar, is so important. America’s Diabetes Challenge documentary narrated by acclaimed actress, producer, and fellow spokesperson, Viola Davis is powerful, enlightening, and an invitation to build social-health justice bridges and pathways.
While the Food Network made food culture pop culture, Leticia’s intricate weaving of food, culture, travel, health, family, and community across so many platforms and sectors is making healthy cooking and eating a vital part of full living and a love of food.