About ME

I am an Afro-Latina chef, speaker, consultant, and restaurateur specializing in authentic Panamanian cooking. 

My Story

Born and raised in Panama City, I discovered my passion for the culinary arts at an early age while helping with my mother’s catering business, where I learned the traditional cooking techniques I still use today.

When I was ten, I told my dad I was going to be an astronaut. I studied electronics at an all-boys technical high school and, after graduating, moved to the United States to earn a degree in Electrical Engineering with a minor in Computer Science and Robotics. After completing an apprenticeship at NASA, I became a Technical Analyst and Designer of banking systems and traveled the globe for more than three decades for work. Everywhere I traveled, I would intentionally taste the local cuisine.

After our move to the U.S., my mother began making and selling fruitcake and built up a large clientele. When my mom passed away in 1990, I had to inform my mother’s clients that the fruitcake recipe had died with her. To my surprise, I was reprimanded and shamed, especially by my senior clients, who asked, “How on earth do you not know how to make fruitcake if you were with your mom until she died?”

I asked them to allow me one year to figure it out. During that year, I tested and experimented with the cake until I perfected it to my liking. I also started receiving requests to cook for special events. After the year, my creation was not my mom’s cake, it was my cake, and I kept my promise, providing my clients with fruitcakes each year after that. And, just like my mom, I made everything from scratch with no recipes and no measurements.

Twenty-five years later, as the requests to cook for special events continued to roll in, I began contemplating a life change over to the culinary world. In 2008, I decided to go back to school and get a degree in culinary arts. While earning my Culinary Degree at the Art Institute of Washington, I opted to return to Panama for my externship rather than France, where I spent three months studying under culinary matriarchs in the countryside who taught me about the wonderful world of native Panamanian gastronomy.

In 2012, I founded Esencias Panameñas in Washington, DC—one of only a handful of Panamanian food businesses in the United States. Voted Best of D.C. three years in a row, Esencias Panameñas serves authentic Panamanian cuisine and is the only Panamanian catering company in the U.S. to offer its food nationwide.

I believe in giving back. I have performed cooking demonstrations at the Farm-to-Street Party as part of the Eat Local First Week, as well as during Growing Healthy Schools Month, which celebrates the D.C. Healthy Schools Act. I also volunteer at N Street Village, cooking and serving meals for women. Most recently, I traveled to Ukraine with World Central Kitchen to prepare and provide meals to families remaining in the country.

Why Work With Me?

Whether you’re hiring me as a restaurant consultant, booking me for a speaking engagement, or inviting me on-air for your morning talk show, when you work with me you have access to decades of experience and knowledge on topics ranging from how to run a restaurant to Panamanian gastronomy.

Some of my areas of expertise include –

  • Starting and managing a catering business
  • ​Opening and managing a restaurant
  • Calculating food costs and plate costing
  • Panamanian culture and history
  • Panamanian gastronomy
  • Blacks in Panama (the migration of Afro Colonials and Afro Antilleans to Panama and the staple foods they brought)
  • Cooking and culinary best practices

What My Clients Say

Your program was fantastic!

"Your program was fantastic! I have had so many comments from those who attended about how wonderful your presentation was, and how talented and intelligent you are. Thank you for making our Wilton Reads program a wonderful success! You are welcome to visit us any time you are in Connecticut, and we'll take you on the grand tour." -- Caryn, Wilton Library Association, Wilton, CT

It was a joy and inspiration working with you!

On behalf of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Caribbean Intellectual Property Association, I want to thank you for helping us deliver a networking program between our groups. It was a joy and inspiration working with you! You made a very informative presentation that enhances our organization’s efforts to celebrate and promote the rich heritage of Hispanic and Caribbean people and our impact on the global community. - Arlene Jones, SHPE/CIPA, USPTO, Alexandria, VA


For bookings, questions, or other inquiries, please use the form below.

Chef Yadira