Leading Ladies: Meet five driven women reshaping San Antonio’s food scene

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click to enlarge JOSH HUSKIN
Josh Huskin
Nurturing with Nature: Katrina Flores of the San Antonio Botanical Garden uses food to build connections

As culinary and wellness programs specialist for the San Antonio Botanical Garden, Katrina Flores is a tireless champion of giving fresh, fun and immersive cuisine the stage it deserves. And it all happens from one of the city’s most stunning natural settings.

The Alamo City native is trained in culinary arts, baking and pastry, food science and nutrition, and uses all those skills in her role at the local landmark. Between outdoor kitchen demonstrations, cooking classes, harvesting classes and pandemic-born DIY programs, Flores’ schedule is full of culinary events designed to deepen San Antonians’ connection with the garden.

“Most people say, ‘I love cooking, it’s creative,’ and for me, it was more of the cultural aspect of it. I think food is a language that’s universal across the world,” Flores said. “In one dish, there’s so much history, so many details to be shared, and that’s what I’m passionate about. I hardly ever cook American food at the Garden. I’m always trying to do other types of cuisines that highlight different spices or techniques. For me, it’s always been about making things interactive and immersive.”

Indeed, Flores aims to embody the Botanical Garden’s mission — to enrich lives through plants and nature. As deliciously as possible, of course.

“I’m working with a horticulturist to bring produce into the garden that you can’t necessarily find at your local H-E-B or Central Market. I really want to expose people to new things,” she said. “The DIY program has definitely pushed the development of the beverage program at the garden. Right now, we’re even making our own botanical gin, where [class attendees] can harvest different botanics that they would like to taste in their own gin.”

Flores also organizes culinary experiences such as the garden’s Foodie Cinema. The monthly event pairs outdoor movie screenings with food connected to the film audiences are seeing. This year’s Dia de los Muertos event matched pork tamales, candied pumpkin, mole negro, pan dulce with champurrado and blood orange marigold margaritas with Disney/Pixar’s Coco.

“These events can be a really great way to heighten your senses, to really immerse yourself in the film,” Flores said. “And to get people together, to create that sense of community.”

For the chef, the connection between the Botanical Garden’s edible yield and those that frequent her many culinary and wellness programs is simple: food is her love language.
“You don’t have to be speaking the same language or practicing the same religion. You could even be polar opposites,” she said. “But when you put a plate of food on a table, not only are you sharing who you are and your culture, you’re sharing love. And that’s a really powerful thing.”

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