Student Spotlight: Krysia Villon

Eating well (and I don’t mean healthy), cooking and activism are in my blood.

I believe in food sovereignty for all of us inhabiting this Earth but do not believe we will ever achieve it unless we begin to see ourselves as the caretakers of our Mother rather than the owners of “it.” We cannot see the value in protecting her and fostering her growth if we insist on dominating her and possessing her. We cannot understand the ways in which to care for her if we do not look to our past. How do we get back to being caretakers and protectors so that peoples may achieve true food sovereignty?

I am the daughter of a Peruvian immigrant father and a Boston-born mother of Polish and Scottish/English descent. I am the oldest of five children and the mother of one fierce little girl. I am the granddaughter of a lawyer who became a judge, a homemaker extraordinaire who produced elegant meals and made her own clothes, a farmer who walked over mountains to sell his goods, and mother who became a pro-union community activist while also being godmother to many, among other things.

I come from a long-line of ancestors that have moved mountains for their family and loved ones. It is their children who continue to tell their stories so that they may live within us and through us. This is how we do not forget. This is how we remember and we value those that came before us. My family tree is chock full of creative, faithful, resourceful individuals who have collectively inspired me since I heeded their call to live and breathe into my true self. I consider myself a storyteller.

I was born and raised in the Boston-area and during my formative years my father owned a Latin American restaurant in Cambridge that focused on Peruvian cuisine. I was that little kid that fell asleep on chairs I had pushed together under the tables, that kid that hung out in the kitchen waiting to sneak a taste when someone wasn’t looking, and that kid that even learned to dance salsa after hours in the bar when I should have been home doing my homework. It is with this particular palate, spirit, and the inherited fire in my gut that I found myself attracted to the world of food, history (stories), and foodways.

I spent ten years in fundraising and volunteer management in non-profits and higher education institutions but was unfulfilled. I left my former field and ran off to Johnson and Wales University (JWU) in Providence, RI to obtain my Culinary Arts degree. I think of this as my second life.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at JWU. I was instructed by fantastic chefs that helped me in refining my cooking skills and allowed me to bring my new found confidence in the kitchen outside the classroom. I also took advantage of the study-abroad program which landed me in Lima, Peru in 2011. I took courses and was trained by more fantastic chefs who deepened my knowledge of Peruvian food, food history and foodways. I postponed my return to the States and stayed in the capital for 6 months. I landed three jobs simultaneously: I worked as a waitress in the only Irish pub to serve Guinness in Lima for money, I worked as a translator and receptionist at a hostel for housing, and I also secured an internship at a Four Fork (Five Star equivalent in the U.S.) restaurant in Lima for experience. I think I slept for a month when I got back. I had every intention to one day open my own restaurant.

Upon my return to the U.S. I completed my culinary degree. It is also during this time I discovered I was pregnant with my miracle baby. Her arrival into my life changed my course slightly but, undoubtedly, changed it for the better. I began to re-think the way I ate, where my food came from, and what I wanted her know about the hands and ingenuity that fed and feed her.

It was during her first year of her life I began my time at Taza Chocolate in Somerville, MA. What drew me to this company was its Direct Trade program in cacao, its connection to food and foodways, and that I would be interacting with the public. I began working part-time at local farmers markets and giving tours which ultimately led me to managing the factory store and tour program today. I am responsible for creating new types of programming and events for the factory store and producing their larger events like our recent Dia de los Muertos block party. In helping plan this event for years I was also able to connect Taza with local cultural organizations to infuse an already successful event into one that was also educational. As manager, I’ve specifically developed programming for children, Spanish-language tours, built a new classroom, enhanced tour materials including video content, created classes like Cacao 101 that teaches about determining the quality of cacao, and even educational games that both inform and engage our customers in new ways.

It was in my own personal experience of learning the comprehensive material in my training at Taza that first sparked my interest in going back to school. I was actively learning again and with that learning arose more questions which only engaged me in more research. It was a beautiful cycle. One morning, two years into my role at Taza, I woke up and realized I had become a storyteller and an educator. When I was young an elder told me that I would become a teacher one day in a non-conventional setting. I had arrived at that moment. I made a decision that I would go back to school so I could immerse myself again in the things that would continue to fuel the fire in my gut. Today, that fire is burning stronger than ever.

I am pursuing my degree at an even pace to remain grounded as a mom and a working woman and to be mindful about the connections I’m making in my research, in my personal and professional networking, and in myself. I now understand more food history and the stories I must learn. I see the gaps and I believe if I learn them I can tell those stories to small and large audiences alike so that we might be reminded of the places from which we come. These stories may come in the form of written word or oral history but I definitely see some more non-conventional, or even conventional, classrooms in my future! We need to hear more stories about the hands, and hearts, that feed us. We need more storytellers before we collectively forget how we got here. I am my ancestors wildest dreams, as Brandan “Bmike” Odums says. I will keep speaking their spirits. I will keep speaking their ingenuity. I will keep speaking their heart so that we are reminded to protect and foster and not to own and possess. I will keep telling the stories. By doing so, I hope I make them proud.

Student Spotlight: Lucy Valena – Inspired. Totally Wired.

Ever wonder what being a Gastronomy student is like? Unfortunately there is no easy answer, we all approach it a little differently. Some of us are full time students, but most are part time; some work as interns, while others maintain full time careers; many students are from far away, but some are Massachusetts natives – simply, our backgrounds are as diverse as the foods we study. In an on going mini-series, we will hopefully give you an idea of who some of our students are and just how unique this program is to bring us all together.

DSCF9170-2by Sarah McKeen

Lucy Valena is the lucky first Gastronomy Student Spotlight. Most know her as the owner of Voltage Coffee & Art in Kendall Square, but this first semester Gastronomy student is much more than simply a coffee connoisseur with a penchant for great art.

Lucy grew up on an old farm in Durham, NH with her folk artist father, museum curator mother, and little sister. The natural progression from this upbringing was a life of art, which she pursued through a BA in Studio Art from Hampshire College in Western Massachusetts. After graduation and a brief stint in Seattle, Lucy made the trek back to Boston with a renewed appreciation for high-quality coffee. With a lot of hard work, plenty of caffeine, talented friends, and some self-admitted luck, Lucy opened Voltage Coffee in 2008. It first started out as an espresso catering service in Jamaica Plain, which eventually evolved into a full-blown cafe, Voltage Coffee & Art, by 2010. As the owner, barista, and dishwasher, Lucy has created a haven for the caffeine-deprived artist in all of us. One can find her between Monday and Saturday behind the bar, in the vibrantly-painted kitchen, or holed away in her closet-sized office. 082

This past January, Lucy decided to up her culinary prowess by joining the Gastronomy Master’s program at BU where she is focusing on history and culture. Finding time to devote herself to academics while owning and operating a cafe is sometimes challenging, but Lucy maintains that the part-time, night classes of the program make it manageable. 

While every day is different, a typical day in the life of the student, cafe owner, and Jamaica Plain resident is as follows:

Wake up.

7am to 3pm:
Work behind the counter at Voltage (make coffee, wash dishes, take orders, and have silly conversations with the staff).

3 to 5pm:
Either in her tiny office doing bookkeeping stuff or at a meeting.

6 to 8pm:
Homework time! If her brain is too overloaded from the day, she tries to work on some art instead.

Boyfriend, John, and Lucy start shaking cocktails and cooking dinner. While cooking, they typically blast the B52’s and play with their kitten, Tiny Henry. They either eat by candlelight (how romantic!) or watch something on their projector. This winter they have been especially into the X-Files, but they also have an ongoing goal to watch the entire AFI 100 list… Someday!

IMG_1535As the first Student Spotlight, Lucy shows that with a bit of caffeine and a lot of passion, one can find a balance between a career and graduate school. Next time you find yourself in Kendall Square, make sure to check out Voltage Coffee & Art and say hello to the owner/student behind the bar.

Sarah McKeen is a Boston native who has studied Gastronomy at BU since 2014. Her focus is on entrepreneurship, technology, and culinary tourism.