Marcela Valladolid's Transformation Is Seriously Turning Heads

On her Instagram profile, celebrity chef Marcela Valladolid modestly refers to herself as a teacher. However, anyone who's been following her ever-changing career knows there's a lot more to it than that. While she's never wavered in her mission to celebrate and share the culture, history, and cuisine of Mexico, her role in the food world seems to be constantly shifting — and it's all by her own choice. 

She's gone from a budding chef to a hotshot young editor at a top publication. She moved on to become a reality game show contestant, and an internationally recognized television personality on several of Food Network's most popular programs. Somewhat shockingly, she left that gig because, in her own words, "I wanted [the] freedom to do things my way (via TODAY)." These days, she seems to have surprised even herself with her latest turn as a Zoom superstar who gives lessons to a devoted following, which happens to include Selena Gomez.

In the meantime, her personal life has taken its fair share of unexpected turns as well. She married her first husband twice before finally ending up back together with her teenage sweetheart, playing down a scandalous affair with a co-star in between. With a lot still ahead of her, Valladolid has already been on quite a journey so far. Here are some of the highlights of Marcela Valladolid's fascinating transformations over the years.

Comments from her American schoolmates inspired her "mission"

Marcela Valladolid was born and went to school in San Diego, Calif., but had close family ties right across the Mexican border in Tijuana. She grew up proud of her heritage but was shocked to realize the stereotypical perceptions of Mexico held by her peers. Speaking to Parents Latina Magazine, Valladolid recalled her friends' reactions when they would come over after school. "They would visit our home in Tijuana and say, 'Oh my God, this is actually really beautiful. This is not like Taco Bell!'" 

"And so that became my mission," Valladolid continued, "to show what we've got and all that Latinos contribute." In the years since, that has included making traditional Mexican dishes and customs more accessible through thoughtful, easy-to-follow explanations and demonstrations via her cookbooks, television appearances, social media, and, most recently, Zoom lessons. "For me, being Mexican is the best thing you could ever be in the world," she told Parents Latina Magazine. "Mexican culture is a bottomless Mary Poppins bag that you can pull magical things out of. My goal has always been to show that."

She met her husband during a chance encounter at a nightclub

After high school, Valladolid moved to Los Angeles to attend the L.A. Culinary Institute. During a night out on the town, she crossed paths with a stranger who would become her boyfriend and then, much later, her husband. She and Philip Button, who worked at a Hollywood talent agency at the time, hit it off and began dating right away, but eventually split. They remained in touch, and then reconnected romantically years later after divorcing other people.

Valladolid gushed when describing their second courtship to the Baltimore Sun. "I've known Philip half my life, but we had both changed so much," she told the Sun. "We had to get to know each other all over again. It was a beautiful full circle moment for us." Today, the couple lives in Chula Vista, Calif., with 2 children they share together, as well as Valladolid's son Fausto from her first marriage. It's clear the honeymoon stage is far from over. Recently on social media, Valladolid posted an affectionate photo of herself swept up in Button's arms with a caption that read: "Whenever I tell him I bet he never thought we'd end up together with 3 kids, a carrot cake-eating dog and a house in Chula Vista his response is always. 'Of course I did.'"

She married her first husband twice

Current husband Philip Button isn't the only man with who Valladolid's had a second-chance romance. After initially splitting with Button in her early twenties, she married Fausto Gallardo, an environmental political activist reportedly worth a cool $25 million (via Glamour Path). The couple is believed to have wed in 2000, and then separated in 2004. Several years later, they remarried in 2012 before divorcing again a year later. They share a teenage son, Fausto Jr., who currently lives with Valladolid and her husband Button in California.

In 2013, Valladolid was also embroiled in quite the tabloid scandal with her married co-host of TV's "American Baking Competition," Paul Hollywood. Hollywood admitted to cheating on his wife with Valladolid, confessing in a BBC Radio 5 interview: "​​I did have an affair in America with my co-judge ... it was the biggest mistake of my life." Despite his indiscretion, Hollywood said he and his wife were working on their marriage. However, it was reported that the fallout led to Valladolid and Gallardo's second and final separation (via the Huffpost UK). The "American Baking Competition" was canceled after its first season (via The Sun).

At 19, she was already a food editor at Bon Appetit

Straight out of culinary school, a young Marcela Valladolid was snapped up by top food magazine Bon Appétit. It was a role even the most seasoned food editor would envy, but Valladolid wasn't even the legal age to drink. "We had to buy ingredients for all of the recipes we were testing and somebody always had to go with me because I could never buy the alcohol for the recipes," she recalled to the Wall Street Journal. "I had to take one of the senior editors with me to buy the wine."

Despite the occasional snafu — like forgetting to remove the wax paper off a roll of goat cheese before serving it to staff members — she admits the 4-year gig was "the best job I ever had." Her father was so proud, he carried a copy of the first issue with her name on the masthead to show off (via PopSugar). Honing her writing and editing skills no doubt proved useful when working on her best-selling cookbooks years later, including 2009's "Fresh Mexico," 2017's "Casa Marcela," and 2019's "Fiesta." Valladolid's next, a children's cookbook entitled, "Cocinando on Cook Street: A Collection of Mi Familia's Recipes," is expected in 2022.

Her mother's 2008 death helped her reconnect to her culture

Because Dìa de Muertos falls close to Halloween and can involve elaborate makeup, it's often confused for the Mexican version of the American holiday, which it is not. For Mexicans, it's a day to celebrate and commemorate the lives of those dear to us who have passed on. Losing her mother in 2008 had a profound effect on Marcela Valladolid, inspiring a religious reawakening and prompting her to take the day seriously ever since. She's described spending weeks decorating her home and preparing her ofrenda: an altar adorned with candles, photographs, and other personal items that honor the dead.

"I felt disconnected from that part of my culture and those opportunities felt opportunistic and inauthentic, so I began to really study and understand what Dìa de Muertos truly is about," she explained to the San Diego Union-Tribune. "Little by little, the tradition has now become one of the most important days of the year for me." She's taken to sharing not only the significance of the holiday with her followers, but festive tips and recipes to mark the special day. While those lost are undeniably missed, the day isn't necessarily sorrowful. "It is a beautiful reminder for me and my children of all the rich and incredible history we carry and need to pass on," she told Yahoo.

Martha Stewart gave her a major career break

Bethenny Frankel wasn't the only future star to compete on 2005's "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart." A young Marcela Valladolid was also a contestant vying for the chance to work for America's number one domestic diva. Valladolid placed fourth before being eliminated, but nonetheless told TV Guide it had been her "biggest career moment yet." She also unknowingly foreshadowed a dream that would later manifest into reality. "That's my goal in life, to have my own show on the Food Network, featuring Latin and Hispanic food geared toward the American household."

Years later, during a 2020 interview with Forbes, she reflected on important lessons she took away from her time on the show with Stewart. "I learned from her that authenticity is key," Valladolid explained. "She had a huge issue with a contestant using the phrase 'fake it 'til you make it' and fired her that same episode. She taught me that you can't fake being a master of your craft. Observing her it was clear that she had a clear purpose; to teach. And taught she did. I still admire her deeply for that. Very few things have depth anymore. True skill is rare. I try and work on my skills every day, not just as a chef. Fake doesn't work for me. It eats at me. I learned that from her."

Her first cooking show launched the start of her TV career

Following Valladolid's appearance on "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart," her TV career hit the ground running (via Hola!). She starred on a program titled, "Relatos con Sabor (translation: Flavor Stories)," for Discovery En Espanol and soon caught the attention of executives at the Food Network. They eventually tapped her to host her own show, "Mexican Made Easy." Valladolid picked recipes she grew up with as a child, breaking down the dishes step-by-step for novice cooks or those without a lot of time. "I adapt those recipes for my viewers," she told San Diego Family. "I want to make cooking authentic Mexican cuisine approachable and easier for families on this side of the border. My recipes deliver freshness and flavor without forcing home cooks to track down hard-to-find ingredients or spend hours at the stove."

Additionally, she became 1 of 5 co-hosts on the Food Network's culinary-themed daytime talk show, "The Kitchen," along with Jeff Mauro, Sunny Anderson, Geoffrey Zakarian, and Katie Lee. She also made numerous appearances on other Food Network shows including "Iron Chef America" and "Throwdown with Bobby Flay."

​​She shocked the food world by abruptly departing "The Kitchen"

During the first 14 seasons of "The Kitchen," Valladolid smiled, laughed, and cracked jokes while bantering with her chef co-stars and performing cooking demonstrations. Clearly, however, something must have been amiss behind the scenes. Valladolid abruptly announced her departure from the series in 2017, explaining in an Instagram post that the commute between her West Coast home and the New York City-based studio had taken its toll.

Four years later, however, in a revealing interview with Parents Latina Magazine, Valladolid opened up. Her problems with the show — and the network — ran much deeper. She described herself as feeling stifled, intimidated, and unable to present herself authentically. "When you're with executives from the most powerful network on culinary TV, you don't think you can fight back on anything," she confessed. "It took me a really long time to find my voice. I wanted freedom to do things my way." She was grateful for all Food Network had done for her, she added, but it was simply time for Valladolid to move on.

A decision to quit drinking helped her become a better mom

In a 2021 conversation with People, Marcela Valladolid revealed she had given up alcohol, explaining that her family — including older son Fausto and her younger children Anna and David — had inspired the decision. "I stopped drinking because of my kids," she told the publication. "I never thought that I'd be in a stable relationship, because I wasn't in one for the first 35 years of my life. But seeing Fau grow into a young man, I really wanted to show him that I could do it and wanted it for myself."

She assured her fans, however, that she would still be offering up mouth-watering cocktail recipes — she just wouldn't be joining them in a toast. In a May 2020 Instagram post, she shared a delectable-looking hibiscus and fresh chamomile concoction in a red-rimmed glass called a Jamaicada. I make drinks," she cheekily wrote. " I just don't drink 'em." In the case of the Jamaicadas, however, she may have made an exception. "Tried this one tho, and HOLY SMOKES."

Donald Trump's remarks about Mexicans caused her to speak up about racial injustice

Former President Donald Trump's offensive remarks about Mexican immigrants in 2015 — in which he referred to many of them as criminals and rapists — sparked outrage from a countless number of people (via NBC News), Marcela Valladolid included. As a result, Valladolid began using her platform to counter hate speech and racism. Unable to "stick to cooking," as one commenter had snarkily advised her, Valladolid told Buzzfeed she felt it was her duty to speak up on behalf of the millions of Mexican-Americans she represented.

She has since become a passionate advocate, calling attention to the harsh realities of parents separated from their children at the border on social media. She's also worked with fellow chef Jose Andres' World Central Kitchen to help feed immigrants. She urged her followers to ignore political rhetoric and expressed hope that one day, people will be able to pass seamlessly back and forth between Mexico and the United States as she has been fortunate enough to do her whole life. Being able to do so, she has said, has shaped who she is as a chef and what she stands for.

A 2017 book signing had an emotional impact on her

While promoting her 2017 cookbook, "Casa Marcela", the chef and author had an interaction with a fan that left a significant impression on her, which she has described as an "A-ha" moment. Recalling the interaction with PopSugar, Valladolid says a woman approached her who had seen Valladolid's son David easily navigate both English and Spanish with Valladolid on TV. The woman tearfully confessed she wished her own parents — who had stressed the importance of assimilation and only raised her to speak English — had done the same.

For Valladolid, it was validation of an important parenting decision she had made: to raise her children bilingual. "It was a humbling moment that reminded me of how fortunate I was to be raised in a very safe and supportive community and by extremely heritage-proud parents," Valladolid explained. "I hugged the woman and we cried. I promised that I'd continue instilling this pride in my kids, because it's not just a language. It's so much more. It's what comes with it." Valladolid also says she was approached by hundreds of others at the event expressing similar sentiments, which, to Valladolid, was "mind-blowing" (via Business Journals).

Zoom reignited her career during the pandemic

Like many of us, the pandemic forced Marcela Valladolid to get creative when it came to pivoting her career while quarantining. She and her sister Carina decided to host Zoom cooking classes, which became a runaway hit. Valladolid told Mashed in an exclusive interview that she resisted the idea at first, but has since embraced the imperfect, informal nature of filming from her home kitchen, as opposed to a big-budget, highly-produced (but less relatable) television studio. "I love that they see that it's just a messy, messy process, and it's not perfect," Valladolid said.

Recently, she gave a lesson to one extremely famous student and her massive fanbase: Selena Gomez. On Gomez's pandemic cooking program for HBO Max, "Selena + Chef," Valladolid guided the actress and pop star through the preparation of enchiladas and mole. "With Selena, I loved doing the show because it was like no holds barred, make tortillas from scratch, get all of the traditional ingredients like chilis for mole. Don't skip on any of the parts of the recipe, don't streamline it," Valladolid said while speaking to Mashed. "It was like, teach her how to do this right. And as a chef with a different cultural background like myself, that's so deeply rooted in tradition, to get that opportunity, and on such a huge platform, it meant everything to me."