Class of 2021
33 / San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Mexico
The pioneering indigenous cook challenging tradition and defying expectation
A role model for indigenous women everywhere, Claudia Albertina Ruiz Sántiz has broken boundaries and paved the way for others to do the same, despite her young age. As a woman from the Tzotzil indigenous community in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, Claudia Albertina was expected to marry young and lead the home. However, determined to do things her own way, she became the first indigenous woman to enter the school of gastronomy at the state’s University of Science and Art, and later the first to work in chef Enrique Olvera’s kitchen at Pujol. In 2016, she opened her own restaurant, Kokonó, which has been badly hit by the pandemic and is currently adapting towards the local market.
Beyond serving delicious, traditional Chiapas dishes like soup of chipilín, a Mexican legume, the chef fulfils her mission to promote indigenous culture on several levels. At Kokonó, she provides young indigenous people with training, skills and jobs, while supporting local producers and educating customers on the origin and value of each dish. In a male-dominated industry where prejudice against indigenous communities still exists, Claudia Albertina also speaks out against sexism, racism and stereotypes. She is an active promoter of the Slow Food movement, which links the pleasure of food with a commitment to the community and the environment.
As she works towards a world where all cultures are valued equally, Claudia Albertina is in the process of setting up an association to help the vulnerable, as well as a soup kitchen to feed those in need. “Values, family, love of art, respect for others and, above all, the acceptance of individuals regardless of their origin, are all present in our space,” she says. “That is why we not only cook, but also educate – and it is an education based on professionalism, but at the same time a more humane one.”
“We want to empower and inspire the next generation to achieve their dreams without forgetting their roots.” – Claudia Albertina Ruiz Sántiz
Images: Eduardo Barajas, Slow Food Mexico