Atop finalist and fan favorite on FOX’s popular show “MasterChef with Gordon Ramsay,” Schrader has now established her presence in the culinary world. She has also performed cooking demonstrations all over the United States at prestigious food and wine festivals such as Taste of Chicago, Palm Desert Food & Wine and Washington D.C. International Wine & Food.
Formerly trained as an architect and urban planner, Schrader switched careers to pursue her passion for cooking. She owns a private chef and food consulting business, travels around the country and abroad for public appearances and teaches corporate cooking seminars for high-profile clients such as SONY Pictures. She is also writing her first cookbook and working on new media and television projects.
Monarch Magazine: How did your relationship with food begin?
Chef Alejandra Schrader: It began early in my childhood while growing up in Venezuela, learning family recipes from my mother and grandmother. At home, I learned that love is definitely the best ingredient to create delicious food. As a little girl, I’d see the time that my grandmother would take to sort dry beans on the table, the care she’d put into carefully shredding tough cuts of meat to make the most tender braises, the love with which she wrapped each hallaca (Venezuela’s version of tamales) with banana leaves. Cooking comforting food to show others love and appreciation is something I’ve learned from the strong, nurturing women in my family. Being able to form such a strong relationship with food from a very young age allows me to use it to connect with my roots, my culture and people.
Monarch Magazine: What does the day of a food entrepreneur look like?
Chef Alejandra Schrader: I’m fortunate to have a big client for who I work as a private chef—for almost a decade, I’ve been serving a crowd of 75 people lunch daily. I am a one-woman-show so this task is quite an undertaking; I shop, prep and cook everything from scratch using wholesome ingredients. I am grateful for the stability this long- term contract brings to my business. The rest of my weekdays can look so different. I work with different food products and businesses developing recipes and creative content for social and digital media. I do on-camera work for award-winning public relations campaigns for national brands and have shot commercials for big companies such as Coors Light, Microsoft and Boost Mobile. I also cook on high-profile TV shows as well as culinary festivals, in the United States and abroad, so I get to travel often to share my love and passion for food.
Monarch Magazine: Did you imagine your career going to these heights?
Chef Alejandra Schrader: Never! Being a chef and food entrepreneur is my second career and one that started from the ashes. I was trained as an architect and hold master’s degrees in urban and regional planning from the University of Michigan. But I lost my job in real estate development after the economic crash in 2009 and had to file for unemployment for nearly two years. Having the opportunity to be on “MasterChef,” helped me venture into a whole new professional field and pursue my lifelong passion for food. In the last nine years, I’ve worked tirelessly to learn and grow, and I’ve been blessed with opportunities that help me to keep building my career and brand. I am so grateful!
Monarch Magazine: What regions or cultures of the world influence your approach to cooking?
Chef Alejandra Schrader: I am a proud Latina and my culinary roots are showcased in various degrees with what I cook and create. But those roots are also an amalgamation of so many regions and cultures. Authentic Venezuelan food is enriched by West African culinary traditions shared by our brothers and sisters during the times of the colonization. By the time I moved back to the United States in my 20s (I was born in Chicago but brought to Venezuela before I turned one year old), I was exposed to other world cuisines such as North African and Asian; and I fell in love with them. Having never traveled anywhere, I decided to explore the world from my kitchen and began to incorporate new flavors and techniques in order to create my own dishes. I often say that my style of cooking is “Global Healthy.”
Monarch Magazine: The dishes you prepare, do you consider them health conscious?
Chef Alejandra Schrader: They are—but that doesn’t mean they’re boring or bland. First of all, I’ve struggled with weight issues and emotional eating my whole life. Growing up with limited resources impacted the way I ate and my overall health. I’ve been morbidly obese, and I’ve had a morbid relationship with food. So I had to stop and reflect. Even before going on “MasterChef,” I learned to cook amazing meals using wholesome ingredients and heightening the flavors of my food using spices and aromatics. Almost two years ago, I decided to stop eating meat as my cholesterol and triglyceride levels were quite elevated; after three months, my blood-work results were stellar. And I now pursue a plant-based lifestyle, which has had a positive effect on my health, both physical and mental. I still cook for omnivores but try to use my platform to motivate others to choose better animal proteins that have been ethically raised.
Monarch Magazine: Why do you think most people associate healthy eating with bad tasting food?
Chef Alejandra Schrader: Because they haven’t tasted my food! I take such pride in creating bold, mouthwatering dishes that are also beautiful and, yes, healthy. Mother Earth has provided a plethora of ingredients to choose from—vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, seeds and nuts. For me, the key is to balance a variety of flavors (savory, sweet, acidic and a little spicy) and textures to create the perfect combo. Stop by my Instagram account (@ChefAleSchrader) and take a look at my dishes; they will have you drooling!
Monarch Magazine: What do you think can be done to change this misconception?
Chef Alejandra Schrader: Educate and empower. Educate people about the importance of food for sustenance and good health. By changing my diet, I was able to improve hypertension and my lipid panel results in three months. Educating people on the benefits of eating more plants may motivate them to try new types of food. Empower people to cook more at home and incorporate a variety of nutrient-dense ingredients in their dishes. Giving home cooks easy-to-follow recipes that result in delicious dishes may encourage them to cook healthier meals at home. To change the misconception, people also have to have a little open- mindedness and willingness to try new things. I believe I can help change the misconception with delicious food!
Monarch Magazine: What are a few of your favorite dishes?
Chef Alejandra Schrader: Growing up right on the Caribbean Sea, I’m partial to dishes made with tropical flavors. I love to make plantain hallacas where I use the mashed fruit to make the masa (dough) and the shredded peel to make the savory filling with a spiced sofrito. Hallacas are wrapped in banana leaves and steamed to perfection. I’m also a big fan of ceviche. I make mine plant-based with hearts of palm (instead of fish) using a coconut-based marinade made with passion fruit, lemon juice and chilies. I make cassava dumplings that will make your heart
smile; they are stuffed with a wild mushroom filling and served with a smooth and velvety roasted pepper sauce. There is so much on the repertoire. I love making hearty bean stews similar to gumbo.
Monarch Magazine: Who are you inspired by?
Chef Alejandra Schrader: I’m inspired by my mother, Gladys. She’s such a strong, resilient woman and she has taught me to work hard and to never give up. My mama has been my biggest fan, no matter what, and has motivated me to be the best version of me. I’m also very inspired by my husband, David, who has loved me even when I was not able to love myself. He’s the kindest person I know; he’s compassionate, loyal and trustworthy. And he was raised by another person I am very much inspired by: my mother-in-law. She’s showed me what being family really means. Professionally, I am inspired by Chef José Andrés who shows up for the most vulnerable in difficult times and Chef Sam Kass who educates people about the connection between food, human health and the planet.
Monarch Magazine: What’s next for the lady we affectionately refer to as the crown of the Caribbean?
Chef Alejandra Schrader: Part of my heart is always near the equator, in the Caribbean Sea. So I love that name! In my personal life, I’d really like to be a parent and expand my family. I do have a furry baby—a 100-lb. dog whose name is Broley—and he’s spoiled rotten. Professionally speaking, my next steps involve publishing a cookbook and working on a show. Considering the current crisis with COVID-19, I’m having to be patient with my professional growth; however, I’m using this time strategically to develop my brand and strengthen the connection with my following. The cookbook is already in the works and different show ideas are being explored. The sky is the limit! I’ll keep working hard and dreaming big.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.