meet the cooks behind the winning recipes

Ventura County's Sweet Signature

By Wendy Dager / Photography By Kristin Teig | June 02, 2017
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Teen’s recipe pays homage to her mother and sister


An aspiring pastry chef and baker, 19-year-old Karen Reyes is a full-time student who’s not only enrolled in the culinary program at Oxnard College, she’s on the track team at Ventura College. When asked if running cancels out the calories of her delectable desserts, she admits that she sometimes doesn’t get to enjoy them, but is happy to share them with friends. Not that they mind, especially since she’s mastered the perfect chocolate soufflé.

For Edible Ojai & Ventura County magazine’s recipe contest, Reyes decided to create her own take on cheesecake. She incorporated fresh berries and Smucker’s Seedless Blackberry Jam as homage to her mother and sister, who have worked in a variety of seasonal positions for many years at The J.M. Smucker Company’s Oxnard facility.

“This was my first time doing this cheesecake. I watched a ton of videos to get the right ratio of cream cheese, sugar, eggs and sour cream. From there, I thought ‘I’m just going to test it,’” she says, her love of baking coming through in her voice. “The first time, it came out good, so I thought ‘I think I got this.’ I know for a lot of recipes they ask for a lot more sugar, so I was surprised that I didn’t have to use a lot of it.”

As locally sourced fruit was to be an integral part of the recipe—and the cheesecake’s sweetening element—Reyes did her research.

“I for sure wanted to do something with fresh fruit, so I looked up the main crops here and berries were one of them,” she says. “With the jelly, that sweetens it a lot.”

The Oxnard resident cites her mother, Ignacia Coronado, as her inspiration and role model. A longtime agricultural employee, her mother works hard as part of the community that provides produce for consumers nationwide. The soft-spoken Reyes says her mother is also a stalwart supporter of her five children, including two college-age daughters still at home.

While her daughters help in the kitchen, Coronado does most of the cooking. When Reyes finds the time between classes and her track schedule to cook, she employs many of the modern techniques she learned in the Culinary Arts Academy at Pacifica High School in Oxnard. It’s where she received a strong foundation, she says, excited to be on her journey toward obtaining her associate’s degree in culinary arts. A goal-oriented teen, her attitude is adventurous, yet calmly pragmatic.

“It’s a little risky—culinary—but why not?”

“My mom has done it all—from working in fields to packaging and factory work. This dessert goes out to her and all her hard work. To me, my mom plays a big part in Ventura County, just as all the agriculture workers do, by providing fresh produce every day through their hard work. I incorporated Smucker’s Blackberry Jam because both my mom and sister together have put in about 24 years of work for Smucker’s, just as many other Oxnard workers have. My recipe is to represent their hard work because they contribute a big part to our community.”

—Karen Reyes

Article from Edible Ojai & Ventura County at http://edibleventuracounty.ediblecommunities.com/recipes/ventura-countys-sweet-signature
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