Dolores “Lola” Wiarco Dweck is an alumna of the MA in LAS/MBA program. She graduated in 2013 and her thesis was on Culinary Tourism in Mexico: Small Business Perspectives (Oaxaca, 2013). After graduation she launched a line of specialty food products and an online store called Lola’s Mercadito that is now open for business!
What is your personal connection to Mexico?
My love affair with Mexico stems back to childhood where I spent summers with extended family in Acámbaro, Guanajuato, my father’s hometown. Growing up Mexican-American in Southern California, I learned family recipes and spent many hours in the cocina as a child with my mother, grandmother, and aunts who I consider my culinary mentors.
Tell us about your research project.
I’ve always had an interest in Mexican gastronomy, which led me to focus my graduate thesis research on Oaxaca’s emerging culinary tourism industry. I spent the summer of 2012 immersed in Oaxaca’s unique regional food scene where I worked with five different cooking instructors to learn about how they promoted their classes to attract tourists. Data was collected through a combined approach that included participant observation, semi-structured personal interviews with the five small cooking instructors, and surveys that were distributed to their students. My ultimate goal was to provide the instructors with feedback and recommendations that would help them grow their respective businesses. What I didn’t realize was that eventually this research would inspire my own professional interests. I now teach cooking classes from my home in Colorado, all inspired by the chefs and cooking instructors with whom I worked in Mexico. I’ve even launched a line of artisanal jams and salsas that incorporate Mexican flavors and ingredients.
Who are you working with on this project?
I worked with Dr. James Gerber from the Department of Economics, Dr. Martina Musteen from the Management Department and with Dr. Vinod Sasidharan from the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
How did you become interested in doing a research project in Mexico?
Since I was working on a dual degree in business administration and Latin American studies, my research had to incorporate both business and Latin America. I took this opportunity to focus on a topic that was going to be interesting to me and provide practical insights for small business owners, practitioners, and destination marketers. My study contributes to an area of research that has generated relatively little on the topic of culinary tourism, especially with regards to Mexico.
How long did you spend in Mexico and did you experience any culture shock?
I was in Oaxaca for a total of six weeks. I didn’t experience culture shock because I’ve traveled extensively throughout Mexico since childhood and this was my second trip to Oaxaca. One thing that I did learn was that if you’re at a restaurant, your server will only bring your bill when you request it. I found this refreshing since it seems as if we’re sometimes being rushed out of restaurants in the U.S. I also got a kick out of the colectivo (shared) taxis where six people would squeeze into a compact car.
What was your favorite part about being in Mexico?
I enjoyed being immersed in such a warm, vibrant culture. I made friends with whom I still stay in touch – my graphic designer is someone I met during my time in Oaxaca. I also love how despite the current socio-political climate in Oaxaca, there’s always a reason to celebrate with music, food, and parades. Oaxaca is also an artistic and culinary gem – each town has art and food that’s unique to that particular area and it’s all very accessible from downtown.
What was your biggest challenge (in terms of doing research, traveling, etc) in Mexico?
My biggest challenge was getting in touch with the people with whom I wanted to work prior to arriving in Mexico. It’s hard to get someone to commit to working with you without having met you. Once I arrived it was much easier, but I do believe that speaking Spanish helped me significantly. It can also get expensive to fund field research abroad, but I set a goal the year before leaving to save a certain amount each month so that I could pay for my lodging and other expenses and solely focus on my research while in Oaxaca. I also applied to and received several scholarships.
What do you feel when you think about Mexico?
I always feel as if I’ve left my soul in Mexico when I return to the U.S. Last summer I spent a month in Oaxaca with my two-year-old son and he loved it as much as I do. I always return reenergized and inspired to share my culture with others.
What advice would you share with students interested in traveling to Mexico for research/tourism/etc?
Do it. Do whatever you have to do to conduct research abroad. I can remember my first study abroad program to Cuba as an undergraduate student – it was an experience that changed me. I couldn’t afford it, but our professor secured partial scholarships and I sold chocolate-covered strawberries to fund the rest of my trip! Studying and conducting research abroad have been the most enriching experiences for me both professionally and personally.
What is the thing you miss most about Mexico?
I miss the warmth of its people, the food, the art, and interacting on a daily basis with young creative professionals who share the same passion for Mexico and its culture as me.
What is the most surprising thing you learned when you visited Mexico?
When I was there in 2012 conducting my research I took for granted how accessible computers were to people in the U.S. and was surprised when someone wasn’t using social media to promote their business in Oaxaca. It’s changed a lot since then, but there are still areas where computers and wifi are uncommon. When I returned last summer, I found a lot more people using social media as a marketing tool and communication is also much easier now that everyone uses WhatsApp to stay in touch.
What are common misconceptions about Mexico?
I’d say that the most common misconceptions is that it’s a dangerous place to travel. Oaxaca is probably one of the safest areas I’ve visited – so much so that I spent six weeks there alone during my field research and felt comfortable enough to take my son there for a month.
Tell us about Lola’s Cocina:
The inspiration for Lola’s Cocina came about over ten years ago when I realized that treasured family recipes, some dating back many generations, must not only be experienced through our taste buds, but also preserved in writing. This is when I began to jot down recipes that I learned from family and friends, created myself, or stumbled upon serendipitously.
Upon completion of my graduate studies, I have dedicated much of my time to cooking, testing, and
organizing these recipes to share with you and future generations.
Lola’s Cocina includes links to:
- Recipes: Compilation of nearly 100 of my favorite recipes (and the list continues to grow) with a Recipe of the Week highlighted on the Homepage
- Cooking in Mexico: Insights into the amazing cooking schools where I conducted my thesis research and learned new dishes
- Comadres Corner: Forum for food enthusiasts to share recipes, suggestions, kitchen tips, or address specific recipe-related questions or cooking concerns
- Tres del Mes: Monthly roundup of three quick tips, suggestions, recipes, or other ideas related to Mexican food culture
Where can we find more information on Lola’s Cocina and the new Mercado!?
About Lola: https://lolascocina.com/meet-lola/
Mexican Hot Chocolate, Oaxaca Style: https://lolascocina.com/2015/11/02/mexican-hot-chocolate/
Lola’s Mercadito: https://www.etsy.com/shop/LolasMercadito