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Masters in Quarantine: Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza

Sonoran Scout is checking in with some Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winners to ask them how they are spending their days at home.

By Robert Danielson

To say that food is in her DNA is an understatement. Barrio Café owner and chef Silvana Salcido Esparza has gastronomic roots that can be traced back more than eight centuries to Spain’s King of Castile, Alfonso X, el Sabio. Silvana is something of Arizona royalty, a member of the state’s Culinary Hall of Fame, seven-time James Beard nominee, and a 2016 Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner. In addition to her restaurant consulting business, she presides over the wildly popular Barrio Café on 16th Street and other emporiums at the Sky Harbor airport. Today, she shares with us how she is dealing with quarantine.

Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza’s famous guacamole, garnished with pomegranate arils and served with fresh tortilla chips.

Robert Danielson: How are you spending your days in quarantine?

Silvana Salcido Esparza: My days during quarantine did not become “Netflix and chill.” It was more like 47 days of cooking and providing free meals for the community, healthcare workers and even school children with the help of countless of volunteers. And, of course, the financial and moral support of the community at large.

RD: What has been most challenging?
Silvana: Trying to navigate the federal, state and local governments different views on this pandemic has been difficult From chasing Paycheck Protection Program money to trying to determine when is a good time to re-open.

RD: Have you acquired a new hobby or conquered a long-term goal during the past weeks?
Silvana: I wish I could say that achieved some goal! Instead, I got busy and cooked. It kept me much saner than any side hobby I could have acquired. I can say that I did plan to finish a book I started to write 20 years ago!

RD: Have you learned anything or been enlightened by spending this time in quarantine?
Silvana: This quarantine has been absolutely beautiful. I have gained a plethora of new friends, have been enlightened to the city’s problems with the homeless, and have started thinking that politics might be something I would consider in the near future.

RD: What is your opinion on re-opening the state?

Silvana: Too soon is my opinion. I had the privilege of keeping a finger on the pulse of what is going on at the local hospitals with regard to COVID 19. It is far from over. So, for my business partner Wendy Gruber and I, it’s not clear. What is clear is that there is no money coming into the bank, but plenty of it leaving. I worry about less popular restaurants. It’s not only what is going on now but what is before us in the near future. The economic impact this has had is going to be very hard to come back from quickly. I sincerely doubt that there will be a financial bounce from this.

RD: What is the best advice you would give to others who are isolated?

Silvana: If you are feeling isolated, reach out to others. Through social media, there are many groups that are set up to help deal with this. Support one another. Don’t isolate entirely because it’s not healthy. What is healthy is getting out of self and helping others. Remember that you are not alone, and many are going through the same thing. That thought has helped me get through moments of temporary despair. Honestly, there was no time to cry—only time to get into action. That helps keep you sane when you are not paralyzed with fear.

RD: What have you missed the most during the past weeks?
Silvana: Getting a pedicure and a massage! But I can do my own pedicure, and I can wait on that massage.
RD: What have you missed the least?
Silvana: I have not missed the traffic and hordes of people everywhere.
RD: What do you think Arizona will look like when this crisis has passed?
Silvana: I think the Valley is very resilient. The city of Phoenix so appropriately describes who we are. As Phoenicians, we will rise from those COVID ashes!
So says Chef Silvana, a trailblazer in terms of Mexican cuisine, civil rights, art and social service. During the quarantine, her Barrio Café was transformed into the Barrio Van Community Kitchen. With dozens of volunteers, she feeds the community at large, healthcare workers, homeless populations and school children.

Her personal motto, “¡Prefiero morir de pie que vivir siempre arrodillado!”, translates to “I’d rather die standing than live forever kneeling.”
Robert Danielson is a 35-year career journalist, marketing and public relations expert. He joins us here at Phoenix Home and Garden Magazine as he explores the Valley as a newcomer to our region. Please welcome him by e-mailing him at


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