Jocelyn Ramirez is a Southeast Los Angeles native and the chef/founder of Todo Verde, a roving Latin American plant-based kitchen providing Los Angeles with healthy and affordable vegan eats. We sat down with her to talk about the perceived challenges of vegan Mexican cuisine, how food can be a catalyst for social change, and how agua frescas started it all.
How Jocelyn first found food
As a child, Jocelyn was always interested in different cuisines. Growing up in a Mexican-Ecuadorian household, she ate dishes like stews with tortillas, nopales, and other slow-cooked dishes. After watching cooking shows on PBS and The Food Network, Jocelyn began experimenting in the kitchen herself.
How cooking became a career
Although Jocelyn was a passionate home cook, she ended up pursuing an education in fashion and graphic design, receiving both Bachelor of Fine Arts and Masters degrees. She owned event design and jewelry design businesses but always came back to food because of its ability to bring people together. It wasn’t until five or six years ago that she began to seriously considering cooking as a profession.
When Jocelyn’s health and that of her family began to decline, she started looking at food in a new way. Although she grew up eating a lot of meat and animal products, she turned to vegetarianism and veganism as a means of healing. Food became medicine, and she began to re-create traditional recipes through a plant-based lens. This “deep dive” motivated Jocelyn to pursue cooking full-time. She wanted fun, playful ways to incorporate balance and health without creating the insecurities that people often feel about “health food.” She also wanted to provide access to nutritious eating in her community of East Los Angeles.
The evolution of Todo Verde
Jocelyn started Todo Verde about a year and a half ago. In the beginning, she only sold creative agua frescas and smoothies at Los Angeles farmers’ markets and Smorgasburg LA, a weekly food and shopping event held in Downtown. The flavors, like kale-jalapeno and strawberry-rose-chia, are based on whatever local and organic produce is available. This past January, Jocelyn launched a full catering menu and now hosts events all over Los Angeles. The team is small, seven to eight individuals including herself, and is primarily women from diverse backgrounds. In Jocelyn’s eyes, Todo Verde is a stepping stone for her community.
In addition to appearing at markets and hosting events, Jocelyn is always looking for Todo Verde’s permanent home in the East Side. She envisions it as a place for workshops, food demonstrations, and of course, the enjoyment of delicious cuisine that is also good for you. Her priority is to make it accessible, giving people healthy eats without requiring them to travel across the city.
Making Mexican food plant-based and delicious
In the beginning, Jocelyn says she did experience some resistance from people who didn’t understand how Mexican food could be vegan. Todo Verde now has ambassadors that spread the “gospel” of her cuisine, bringing their friends to her pop-ups and vouching for the deliciousness! Jocelyn cooks items that mimic the flavors and textures of traditional dishes, like a ceviche with hearts of palm instead of seafood and a mole with shredded mushrooms instead of beef. She says, “It’s also about making the food visually similar to what people are used to and giving them a balance of salty, sweet, and fatty flavors. The plant-based stereotype is that it’s all salads and ‘rabbit food,’ but there are so many ways to experiment.”
How food can be the impetus for social change
In addition to crafting nutritious plant-based food, social change is one of Todo Verde’s pillars. This stems from Jocelyn’s time teaching higher education classes in social justice, civic engagement, leadership, and community building. She is continually searching for partnerships with social action initiatives, striving to enact long-term change through education and awareness. At a past dinner, Todo Verde teamed up with an organization that aids victims of domestic violence called Peace Over Violence. In the future, she also wants to incorporate nutrition and dietary sciences into Todo Verde in the form of free workshops to teach people about what they’re eating.
Can’t make a meal? Make Todo Verde’s hearts of palm ceviche at home!