Chef Jetzabel Rojas Barragán Chats Culinary Idols & Refining Mexican Cuisine At Viceroy Riviera Maya

The award-winning Viceroy Riviera Maya Luxury Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico continues to rack-up endless "best of" accolades, but perhaps their most powerful secret weapon is their talented chef, Jetzabel Rojas Barragán. I managed to catch up with this busy young woman after she had just knocked everyone dead at the 2014 Cancun-Rivera Maya Wine & Food Festival. Interesting — and a little sad in this day and age — to note that she was the only local female chef that participated in the gourmet event.

Jetzabel (which means "Queen") grew up in a big family surrounded by a bevy of women who were all fabulous cooks. One grandmother, who lived in Veracruz, instilled in her a deep respect for seafood, while the other granny, in Nogales, taught her how to use various chilies to produce amazing sauces. Jetzabel realized early on that cooking was her life's passion, and in 1999 enrolled in the Culinary Institute of Mexico in Puebla to further hone her skills. Upon graduation she headed to the United States where she was exposed to a variety of new cuisines and talented chefs — namely Thomas Keller, who has greatly influenced her cooking style.