Today we’d like to introduce you to Alejandra Schrader.
Alejandra, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Growing up in Venezuela with a single mother and limited resources, I was always encouraged to educate myself in order to build a career, to “be somebody.” And that’s exactly what I did–I studied hard. Amidst a political and economic crisis in the place I called home, I decided to move back to the United States (my birthplace) to learn English in order to finish my bachelor’s degree. I was number one in my graduating class at SCI-Arc, a highly reputable architecture school in downtown Los Angeles, and then went to the University of Michigan to pursue a master’s degree. But only a few years into that career that took me so much work and money to build, the economic crash in 2008 left me unemployed (and with big student loan debt.)
I’ve always loved cooking. It’s been the conduit that allows me to connect to my roots and culture. During nearly two years of unemployment, I focused on learning and gaining experience in the kitchen. The promise of a cash prize led me to apply for the cooking competition show MasterChef with Gordon Ramsay. From over thirty thousand applicants, I was selected as one of the hundred contestants on the popular Fox show and, week after week, I cooked my heart out. I got to be a Top-10 finalist and right then, I thought I had a shot at winning (and using the money to pay my debt) but that was not my fate. I was chosen as a fan-favorite of the season and many doors began to open in the culinary world.
Being on MasterChef gave me a platform to start doing appearances on national TV shows and demonstrations at high-profile culinary festivals. My first experience was on Access Hollywood LIVE and, since then, I’ve been blessed to be featured on all major US television networks, on shows such as The Talk, Cafe CNN, and Home & Family. Being bilingual also granted me the opportunity to appear on Telemundo and Univision, and national shows such as Despierta America. And that was just the beginning…
A deep love and passion for food and my commitment to sustainability—something I’ve focused on throughout my life, from my academic formation to my former career—allowed me to find a sense of purpose, to define a new career path where I could be part of something bigger and more meaningful. I now use my platform to create awareness about the connection between food and our planet, between what and how we eat and the health of our planet. This connection helped me understand that a revolution can only be started from within, so I shifted to a plant-based diet. Soon after, I went back to school to complete a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at Cornell University.
Today, I work as a Chef and culinary consultant. I’m an entrepreneur, public speaker, and activist. I’m involved with national and global organizations that advocate for better food systems for all and for diets that have a positive impact on human health and that of the planet.
COVID has further revealed the vulnerability of our food systems and the detrimental effects they cause on climate change, food security, and human rights. I’ve done humanitarian work as an Ambassador for Oxfam America helping to fight for equality and for the rights of underprivileged communities, women and children, minorities, and people of color. I’ve visited the U.S. Capitol to do policy advocacy and have met with elected officials such as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
What started as a curveball—the loss of my career with much uncertainty and fear—ended up being the catalyst to help me find my true purpose. Just recently, I was signed by DK Publishing / Penguin Random House to publish my first literary project: “The Low-Carbon Cookbook.” There is definitely not a straight line to define my path but I am grateful for the process, obstacles, and hardships I’ve found along the way because they’ve landed me where I am today.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has not been a smooth road at all. I lost my career (but not the BIG student loan debt acquired while pursuing it), and I’ve had to build a new career for myself while living through economic meltdowns and, most recently, a pandemic.
The struggles have been many, from financial insecurity to mental health issues such as depression. Uncertainty is not something I know how to navigate very well. Coming to another country on my own at a very young age taught me to have plan B’s in place, to keep safety nets. But there are many things we cannot control.
These challenges along the way have taught me patience and resilience. I’ve learned the value of holding on to hope, no matter how rocky the road gets, and the importance of keeping a positive attitude.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I operate under Chef Alejandra Schrader. I’m a plant-based nutrition certified chef and a culinary consultant. I do a lot of work in front of the camera, with cooking and expert segments on national television in English and Spanish in the United States and Canada. I serve as a spokesperson for award-winning national campaigns for companies such as State Farm and have been featured in national commercials for companies like Coors Light, Microsoft, and Boost Mobile.
As a culinary consultant, I develop creative content and work on campaigns for plant-based food brands including JUST Egg and P.A.N US. I’ve developed menus for restaurants and offered my services to plant-based startup businesses.
I am invited as a speaker to provide my perspective and expertise at events and organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank. I’ve had the opportunity to travel internationally to countries such as Italy and Sweden to work in global programs promoting the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement. Due to the pandemic, I now teach virtual cooking classes and do speaking engagements for conferences and summits.
My interviews and insights on food as it relates to a greener planet have been featured in national printed media outlets such as The New York Times and Forbes. By next year, I’ll be a published author and I’m so excited to work with an amazing publisher like DK Publishing / Penguin Random House.
What were you like growing up?
I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela. I lived in Santa Monica, a middle-low class neighborhood, raised by a single mother and with two sisters. I HAVE always been a ham and the life (or clown?) of the family. But I saw my mother work hard to give us the best life she could and how valuable it was that she had an education. I’m definitely my mother’s daughter.
I always had such an interest in aesthetics and design (perhaps the reason why I was the only one in my family not pursuing engineering or health sciences.) I also loved the performing arts–from dancing and singing to theater. Go figure! Since I was a little girl, I was very outgoing as well as a chatterbox. There’s not a shy bone in my body!
I was also very outspoken and fought for my core beliefs and basic rights. I’m definitely the organizer! And there was the passion for sustainability, although I didn’t know what to call it then. I was interested in how humans and our way of living affected Mother Earth. In my house food was never thrown away (mostly because of financial need) but it taught me the value of maximizing our investment and minimizing our footprint. Something we all need to think about now and for the future.
- Website: alejandraschrader.com
- Phone: 310-936-4770
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: http://instagram.com/chefaleschrader
- Facebook: https://facebook.com/chefaleschrader/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/chefaleschrader/