How I Gather

This Food Network Star Brings Mexican Flair To Every Dinner Party

Cinco de Mayo is no exception.

By Chanel Dror

If anyone knows her way around a kitchen, it’s Marcela Valladolid. From learning the basics as a child in Mexico to hosting her own Food Network show and everywhere in between, the San Diego-based chef has cooked her way around the globe, her heritage informing her cuisine every step of the way. All this is reflected in Marcela Valladolid’s house and its stunning décor.

However, no project has been more from-the-heart than Marcela’s latest contribution to the culinary world, her new cookbook, Fiestas.

It is filled with expert, stress-free hosting tips and go-to recipes to get even the most timid home entertainer excited to plan their next fiesta.

We caught up with Valladolid at her breathtaking Chula Vista home to talk all things food, entertaining, and of course at the top of our minds, Cinco de Mayo. The dinner party she hosted for close friends is bursting with decor ideas and design inspiration you won’t want to miss. Aside from the fact that it looks like an absolute blast, just about everything in Marcela Valladolid’s house is ultra-covetable, so we’ve include

gravel courtyard with fountain

We love your home. What’s the story there?

My home is a historic Chula Vista landmark! Built in 1912, the home was constructed in the middle of 55 acres of citrus trees. There’s a ton of history here and, when remodeling upon purchase, I wanted to respect the architecture of the home. I brightened it up and added a tone of elements that pay homage to my upbringing in Mexico. The best compliment I could ever receive is when folks tell me it’s so cozy they don’t want to leave. Mexico exists in some way or another in every room of the home. But it’s subtle and that’s how I entertain. Nothing is in your face of any culture or ethnicity. I just search for beauty. Same with my entertaining. I don’t search for Mexican-only themes or menus, just things that are beautiful and work well together!

marcela valladolid in her garden

Where did you learn to cook?

My mom spent a lot of time sick and in bed when I was growing up and it was common practice in Mexico to hire beautiful women from all over Mexico to do not only the housework but also the cooking. They were like my moms and sisters. I learned the most from them as they all came from different regions with entirely different cuisines. Oaxaca, Yucatan, Puebla, Mexico City…

indoor outdoor dining room flow with french doors

Sounds like a childhood filled with incredible meals. What do you always keep in your refrigerator these days?

Milk. Butter. Eggs. Pickled Jalapeños.

mexican dinner plates display

Tell us about Cinco de Mayo in your household.

Truth? It’s exactly the same as Cuatro de Mayo. It’s not celebrated in Mexico or by Mexicans—only in Puebla, where the specific battle being celebrated was won. The holiday is an American creation, but whatever celebrates our food and our culture I get excited about. However, the truth is everybody just gets up and goes to school or work like any other day!

a perfect cinco de mayo dinner party

We love the way Mexican culture influences your entertaining style. What’s the number one favorite tabletop item you own?

My Talavera anything. Such gorgeous hand-painted pieces.

neutral place setting for cinco de mayo dinner party

The restaurant meal you’ll never forget:

The Sundays spent eating lobster in Puerto Nuevo with my family are the most treasured food memories I have had in my life. Served with red rice, refried beans, clarified butter, and homemade flour tortillas to make your own burritos. Who the hell needs a Michelin star after that.

sunroom and dining room with banquette and brick pavers

That sounds like heaven! What’s your signature dish to serve at parties?

We grill lamb chops. A lot. My personal obsession and my kids love them. They’re well-known around these parts. As is Philip’s pasta sauce.

amazing tableware storage

What a collection! Out of all of these, what’s your must-have entertaining tool?

It isn’t necessarily a tool, but serving utensils are a big deal for me. I have a formidable collection—I can’t stand a beautiful plate of food being served with a regular old kitchen spoon.

What would we never find at one of your parties?

Disposables. Horrible for the environment and oh so cheap.

mexican bar cart for cinco de mayo


Cheers to that! And what is your signature cocktail?

Tequila. Straight. In a snifter. With an orange wedge. My dad’s venom of choice.

at home with marcela valladolid

No one knows entertaining quite like you. What would you say is the secret to a great dinner party?

The hostess is happy. Period. You set the tone. Everything can suck but if you can laugh about it, the guests will laugh with you. Your stress becomes their stress so don’t stress!

at home with marcela valladolid

Love that! What entertaining rule would you never break?

I never pre-plate food. Ever. No matter how formal the occasion, it’s always self-serve. I hate wasted food and honestly, I’ve gone thru so many experimental diet restrictions in the last few years that I know what it feels like to be presented with a plate you can’t eat but at the same time, you don’t want to be annoying and make people make you a special plate of food.

Standard hostess outfit, go.

Little black dress. Big heels. Red lip. Red nails. High pony.

The perfect dinner party playlist includes:

A bunch of contemporary pop Mexican artists, a little Bob Marley, maybe some Gipsy Kings, definitely Frank Sinatra and Edith Piaf makes my heart happy. Elvis makes occasional appearances.

a perfect cinco de mayo dinner party

What does after dinner typically look like at your house?

After-dinner conversations with the teens at the table. Or Philip will organize some sort of soccer-related tournament for the kids outside. He just Amazoned an obstacle course by American Ninja Warriors. I’ll let you know how that goes.

marcela valladolid and her baby celebrate cinco de mayo

You dream dinner guests:

My family. Eckart Tolle and Albert Einstein would also be pretty cool.

Fill in the blank: “It’s not a party without ____________.”

Great food. Good lighting. Music.

amazing strawberry cake

Shop the look of Marcela Valladolid’s house below!

urban outfitter taper candle

Urban Outfitters Multicolor Taper Candle

How gorgeous are these multicolored tapers? Get your romantic glow on while still keeping things cheerful and color-filled.

Buy it here.

pottery barn puebla dinner plates

Pottery Barn Puebla Stoneware Dinner Plates Set

Produced in Mexico City, this authentic set is hand-painted by artisans.

Buy it here.

uncommon goods salsa turtles

Uncommon Goods Majolica Salsa Turtles Set of 3

These three serving bowls are a testament to Mexican pottery techniques.

Buy it here.

etsy talavera canoe bowl

Etsy Talavera Canoe Bowl

Made of Talavera, which is a type of majolica earthenware, colorful glazed ceramic.

Buy it here.

crate and barrel placemat

Crate & Barrel Whitewash Water Hyacinth Round Placemat

This rustic, handwoven placement adds a lovely touch of organic warmth for casual-chic tablescapes.

Buy it here.

food52 handthrown rustin ceramic dinnerware

Food52 Handthrown Rustic Ceramic Dinnerware

Crafted in a small studio in the Bronx, these dishes are intended for everyday use and have been hand thrown, trimmed, glazed, and fired by the same person.

Buy it here.

hearth and hand wood cake stand

Hearth & Hand Wood Cake Stand

How lovely is this cake stand? It’s simply made from durable wood that lets your baked goodies shine, similar to the one in Marcela Valladolid’s house.

Buy it here.