Food Network’s Big Restaurant Bet includes Las Vegas’s very own Chef Mariana Alvarado of “Masazul: Artisanal Heirloom Corn Tortillas.” Culinary inclined contestants compete for the mentorship and investment from restaurant entrepreneur chef Geoffrey Zakarian, who many recognize from Iron Chef. The contestants of the show must complete cooking challenges, pitch their restaurant concepts and navigate simulated unsatisfied customer situations.
Chef Alvarado recalls, “The casting and production departments sent emails to my husband and my peers to convince me to audition. I was hesitant because this would be my first time competing.” First time jitters was not the only factor that led to her initial apprehension. “I also didn’t know if I was going to get casted because I was pregnant. When we interviewed, I told them right away. They were okay with the pregnancy. We filmed in November last year in Fort Myers, Fla.,” Alvarado mentions.
Originally from Mexico, Alvarado roots her preparation methods in traditional Mexican culinary practices. “I went to college in Mexico for culinary arts and came to the United States in 2008 to continue my education at UNLV. When I came to Vegas, I missed the fresh handmade tortillas that I grew up with,” Alvarado recounts.
The chef missed the authentic corn tortillas she had been accustomed to so much that she stopped eating the tortillas that were available in the Las Vegas market all together. She soon recognized this as a common problem for many living in the Las Vegas area. She began instructing cooking classes at her son's preschool and partnered with Airbnb to instruct cooking via Airbnb Experiences. Yet something was always missing, the tortillas.
“I realized I needed to learn how to make tortillas and bring the real deal to the Las Vegas market. Then I realized I needed to sell them,” Alvarado expresses. With the heirloom corn sourced from Mexico and ground locally, Alvarado ensures authenticity while prioritizing freshness as well. “I had to stop instructing cooking classes once COVID shutdowns happened, but I could still sell my tortillas.
Alvarado opened her business, “Masazul: Artisanal Heirloom Corn Tortillas,” during the pandemic. She originally sold her tortillas at her childrens’ preschools to other parents and staff. Thereafter she began to sell her product at the “Vegas Test Kitchen” in downtown off of Fremont Street and at farmer’s markets.
Alvarado informs, “Tortilla productions and sales are on hold right now because of my maternity leave. By the end of summer we will return to online sales and wholesales.” Incorporating the invaluable input she received from Geoffrey Zakarian, his wife and business partner, Margaret Zakarian, and his executive chef, Eric Haugen, Alvarado expresses, “Having feedback from them is of great value to my company.”
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Alvarado confesses, “It’s been wonderful and a little overwhelming with so many good things happening at the same time. I feel very blessed and grateful.” With eliminations occurring each episode, tune in on Tuesdays at 7PM PDT to see how far Las Vegas’s Chef Mariana Alvarado makes it on Food Network’s Big Restaurant Bet.
Photography by: Courtesy of Food Network