By Staff, November 2017 Issue. Meet the rest of the Class of 2017 here.

She’s the mastermind behind the “comida chingona” that’s earned her Barrio brand national recognition and countless local honors. She’s one of the country’s foremost authorities on bold, regional Mexican cooking. She is a founding member of Devour Phoenix, a five-time James Beard Award nominee and a 2004 Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame inductee.

And while the first of her four current restaurants, Barrio Café, celebrated its 15th anniversary this year, Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza’s focus on familia, cultura and activismo have not wavered.

“James Beard is like being nominated for an academy award and is the industry’s biggest honor,” she said. “I have received my accolades and honors, but to be recognized by the LGTBQ community is amazing and a real honor.”

Esparza, who married her wife, Jo, in April 2013, has been an outspoken and visible member of the LGBTQ community, an advocate for immigrants, an ambassador of the arts and an integral part of her family’s 800-year legacy as bakers and chefs.

Familia es todo,” said Esparza, whose parents “arrived in a country with no papers, no language, no money and definitely no education, yet they managed to own and operate Mexican bakeries in California.”

“Community service has always been part of our family. My father was a bakery who also happened to be the elder of his congregation. So not only am I a bakers daughter but a preachers daughter as well. On a Wednesday I would accompany him to sell his bread out of his van selling it at rual migrant work camps. Then on Saturday morning we would be back to the same camps, but this time selling religious magazines,” she recalled. “At my father’s bakery we helped folks fill out forms and translate for them. My uncle placed an add in the newspaper that would fund and start the United Farmworkers union [UFW] in the early 1960s. He supported Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta during the ‘huelga’ … I feel a need for activism because of my upbringing and community service."

Esparza has carried this commitment to community with her as she’s built her empire. One example of which was her participation in February’s A Day Without Immigrants protest, as a part of which she closed three of her restaurants for the business day in response to President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

“I feel a need for activisim because of my upbringing and community service. I cannot stand inequality,” she said. “When I see a group picked on or marginalized it drives me nuts. Perhaps because I was forced to live my youth in the closet, or perhaps because I cannot stand privilege ...”

Another battle Esparza has fought throughout the past year has been one against her own body. After being diagnosed with Sarcoidosis – a rare disease that causes clusters of abnormal inflammatory cells – the acclaimed chef adopted a vegan lifestyle (along with Rick Simpson Oil, natural Yierbitas [medicine] as treatment

“Looks as if it worked because, after a year long struggle – I am in remission," she explained. "My beautiful wife, Jo, has been an integral part to my speedy health recovery. Believe it or not, a chef loves to be cooked for and it was Jo’s wonderful love and food that brought me back from the dead."

Whether it’s cuisine, art, politics, community or her health, Esparza has established herself as a force to be reckoned with.

“I come from a long line of chingones and chingonas, we know how to thrive,” she said. “I look forward to the future as I feel that I am putting out my best food to date at Barrio Café Gran Reserva. Especially after a year of bullshit health issues and hater hating on me because of my political stance. I am back and I have something to prove!”

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