Q&A with is a new on-going articles series where we ask Latinx creators about different topics. This month, we’re talking about heritage and how it influenced them.

Piloncillo y Vainilla has become a staple among the Latin food scene and today we are talking with the woman behind it.

Alejandra Graf is a Mexican chef who has lived in the United States for the last 10 years. Along with her husband, they are raising their 3 kids. The way she cooks changed completely after the birth of her son: his allergies led her to clean, organic, and 100% plant-based food, and she has stayed on this cooking path for almost 12 years.

This amazing chef feels very inspired by all the ingredients and combinations that anyone can try in the vegan world. She finished her Professional Certification as a plant-based cook and, since then, Ale Graf dedicates herself to show as many people as she can this creative and healthy food world. The main idea behind Piloncillo and Vainilla Instagram’s account is to share her experiences in the kitchen, recipes, and her family lifestyle.

Alejandra Graf. Photography courtesy of Alejandra Graf

Alejandra Graf from Piloncillo y Vainilla. Photography courtesy of Alejandra Graf

When asked about her upbringing in Mexico and if it plays an important role in her cooking ways, she said: “I am Mexican by birth and very lucky to have a family in different parts of Mexico. From a very young age we had to get to know many states of the republic, get to know the great heart and kindness of Mexicans and try all the delicacies that we came across there. So in my house they ate Veracruz, Yucatecan, Sinaloan dishes, etc. And just as our paisanos always welcomed us with open arms and invited us to their table without any problem, in my house it was the same, everyone was invited to eat.”  

Ale Graf’s cultural heritage and Piloncillo y Vainilla

What does this mean for her cultural heritage? “When I think about defining my cultural heritage and creating dishes with the Mexican essence, I like to imagine a table with guests from all over the world. Everyone sat eating in peace and having joyful, laughter-filled conversations. For this reason, when I create the recipes I think of ingredients, flavors and combinations that everyone can like. I don’t like to make extremely spicy or complicated dishes, I like to make recipes that manage to convey a bit of Mexico. Easy recipes that you can make often at home and especially recipes that bring family and friends around a table.”

While on the family subject, we wanted to know if she’d “inherited” any tips or traditions from them: “I think the best thing I inherited around food and wish to inherit it to my kids is that we always had at least one meal together as a family.  I do the same at my home with my kids. We sit together as a family once a day to enjoy each other’s company, to talk about our highs and lows through the day, to enjoy a meal, and regroup for a bit. This was a tradition while I was growing up, my family always got together and sat down on the kitchen counters, some in the kitchen stools, some ate a snack, others a complete meal, and we always had a blast.”

Piloncillo y Vainilla, a bilingual experience

Ale Graf has divided the Piloncillo y Vainilla blog in two: one section for her Spanish speakers, “Piloncillo y Vainilla”, and the other for her English speakers ,“Brown Sugar and Vanilla”. It was impossible for us not to ask her about translating all the Mexican ingredients and recipes. She told us that “It is hard to explain that some nouns become verbs. Like ‘molcajetear una salsa’, which means to use a molcajete and it would never be the same to translate it to grind. The difficult part of translating is that it is difficult to put the emotion the Mexican words light up in me. Again, molcajetear has an emotional, cultural feeling that it is hard to communicate when translating. I normally do not translate words, I try to explain them.”

Is there anything else that she considers important regarding cultural heritage? “In México a meal brings people together, we eat to nourish our body, mind, and soul, we don’t just get food. We plan parties and get-togethers around food, when we have people over we plan the meal, the snack, the after-hours meal, everything to make our guests feel at home and loved.”

For this amazing chef, it is really important that her blog and recipes can communicate her love for food, for Mexican recipes, and most of all, her love for having friends, family, and loved ones around her table sharing stories and a good laugh while they share a meal.

We love finding people that keep honoring their large history and rich heritage, even when they are away from their home countries, and Alejandra is an incredible example of this. Thank you for kindly sharing your remarkable thoughts with us!


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