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Because it’s strange and beautiful and hot, people from everywhere converge on Florida and they bring their cuisine and their traditions with them. The Zest celebrates the intersection of food and communities in the Sunshine State.

Restaurateur Claudia Johnson on the global influences of Mexican cuisine

Jeremy Scott

Head south of the border for a conversation about Mexican food with Claudia Johnson of Grand Hacienda restaurants. She discusses global influences on Mexican cuisine and how the minor Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo became such a big deal in the United States.

Listen to the episode

Today we’re salivating over Mexican food and culture with Claudia Johnson.

Claudia is general manager of Grand Hacienda, a Mexican restaurant with five Tampa Bay locations. Her latest project is Seaglass Tavern, which features elevated comfort food in Tampa’s Citrus Park neighborhood.

Born and raised in Mexico City, Claudia learned to cook from relatives.

“Cooking is a part of your growth in Mexico,” There’s no way that you arrive to 15 not knowing how to cook,” she says.

She dreamed of owning a bakery, but her parents wanted her to go into a more respected profession. So she studied accounting and had a successful career in the pharmaceuticals industry. Her job took her on business trips all over the world, where she always carved out time to take culinary classes.

After retiring from her corporate career, Claudia moved to Florida to care for relatives. She also found an opportunity to live her dream, opening a restaurant/bakery in Sarasota.

After that, she partnered with three friends to open Grand Hacienda restaurants. Each location’s interior feels like a visit to Mexico, with tiles, lamps, glassware and other decor items sourced from Claudia’s homeland. Then there’s the food itself. The menu carries a mix of traditional Mexican fare like enchiladas and street tacos, alongside more Tex-Mex, grigno-friendly fare.

Claudia recently chatted with The Zest’s Dalia Colón at Grand Hacienda’s St. Petersburg location.

She discussed the complexity of Mexican cuisine, including regional differences and the strong French influence. She also shared how her business background and world travels influence her restaurants, and she explained how the minor Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo became such a big deal in the United States.

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