Through her Oaxaca cooking school, Susana Trilling built a diverse and devoted culinary following. Learn more about the chef and her brand before Expo East.

Davina van Buren

August 8, 2023

5 Min Read
¡Ya Oaxaca!: Creating authentic Mexican mole sauces for Americans
¡Ya Oaxaca!

At Natural Products Expo East, 8 regional Naturally Network Pitch Slam winners will take the stage for a shot to win the grand prize: a free booth at Expo East 2024 and more than $30,000 in New Hope Network services. The regional winners will exhibit in the Hot Products section of the trade show floor, near booth 4097. During the coming weeks, NewHope.com introduces the event's competitors.

Susana Trilling started cooking with her grandmother, a chef from Tampico, Mexico, who lived and worked in San Antonio, Texas.

At 10 years old, Trilling was already discovering tortillas, tamales and chalupas. Under her abuela’s tutelage, she learned to prepare family recipes and work with local meats, seasonal produce and homegrown herbs and spices.

In 1993, Trilling opened Seasons of My Heart Cooking School northwest of Oaxaca City, Mexico, where she teaches epicurious travelers from around the world how to make traditional Mexican dishes using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.

Chef Susana Trilling, founder of Seasons of My Heart Cooking School and Ya Oaxaca! brand mole sauces

Twenty-six years later, Forbes named the school one of the top five culinary vacations in the world. Visitors can choose a full-day cooking class that includes a visit to a local market or Mexican chocolate-making demonstration; a half-day cooking class; multi-day cultural immersions; and even culinary tours in Mexico and Europe.

And now, anyone can sample the flavors of Oaxaca with ¡Ya Oaxaca!, Trilling’s line of mole sauces made with ingredients including organic criollo corn, wild garlic, smoked chiles and house-made chocolate. We caught up with Trilling to learn more about the brand and how her team is preparing for Natural Products Expo East.

¡Ya Oaxaca! Mole sauces are inspired by traditional cocineras (Mexican cooks), family recipes and Oaxaca’s local artist community. Tell us more about this ethos.

Susana Trilling: I’ve been sharing my love of Oaxaca for the last 30 years through my cooking school, Seasons of my Heart, where I teach cooking classes to novice and professional chefs alike. Most of our ingredients are sourced from local farmers and purveyors within Oaxaca. We also have a vibrant artist community here in Oaxaca, some of which we feature on our packaging. The artwork featured on our labels came from local Oaxacan artists Jacobo and Maria Angeles.

Where and by whom are your products produced?

ST: We produce the core of our product—our mole paste—in Oaxaca. Then, with a partner, we cook the paste to a sauce north of Mexico City. Our facility in Oaxaca is next to the cooking school and has been expanding with our increased production needs. The team in Oaxaca consists of four people who have all been with us for between 14-20 years and ensure we produce the best quality products every time.

How do you stay innovative, both in terms of product offerings and business practices?

ST: For us, staying innovative means staying true to authenticity. Our philosophy is simple: deliver an authentic and quality product that delivers the flavors of Oaxaca.

What is your ethos surrounding sustainability, and what sustainable practices do you use at ¡Ya Oaxaca!?

ST: We believe in creating sustainable growth opportunities across the supply chain, which is why we work with local farmers and purveyors in Oaxaca to ensure that as we grow, they grow. Most of our sourced ingredients go into our mole paste. Shifting the production of the paste to a sauce to a facility north of Mexico puts the production of the final product that much closer to the end consumer, which allows us to reduce shipping emissions.

 Creating authentic Mexican mole sauces for Americans

What is your favorite aspect of working in the natural foods industry, and what is the biggest challenge?

ST: I love the shared ethos. We're a strong community of like-minded individuals that want to reshape the available options to better reflect authenticity, quality, healthy and overall better-for-you foods. A lot of passion goes into what we do and produce.

The biggest challenge is bottling that passion and scaling up. The natural products space is an extremely competitive environment, which makes it difficult for small businesses to thrive.

What’s next for ¡Ya Oaxaca!?

ST: We've only just begun to develop the category of mole sauces. We believe there's still a lot of opportunity to grow from here. That said, because we're chef-owned and there is no shortage of amazing and unique flavors from Oaxaca, we've got a lot more product ideas waiting in the wings!

What else would you like people to know about your business?

ST: We are a family-owned and -operated business. I have two sons: Kaelin is a chef who opened Thomas Keller's La Calenda in Yountville, California; my other son, Jesse, not only runs production for ¡Ya Oaxaca!, he also operates a 15-acre greenhouse tomato farm in Oaxaca that sells Roma tomatoes throughout Mexico.

What advice do you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those in the natural products space?

ST: Have a clear vision of where you want to go, but stay very flexible on the path you take to get there. Ask lots of questions, listen, and always stay ready to solve the next puzzle—because there will always be one.

Natural Products Expo East Logo

Natural Products Expo East Logo

Natural Products Expo East Pitch Slam, in partnership with Naturally Network, is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. ET Sept. 20, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. In addition to education sessions and the trade show, New Hope's Innovation Experience debuts this year. Learn more about Expo East's agenda, exhibitors, retail buyers and registration.

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Natural Products Expo

About the Author(s)

Davina van Buren

Davina van Buren is a North Carolina-based food writer and farmer. In addition to writing for numerous food brands, restaurant and agricultural tech companies and industry trade journals, she also grows heirloom vegetables and microgreens for local chefs.

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