“I was one lucky granddaughter,” says chef Jezabel Careaga, recalling the days she spent with her grandmother, Julia, in her native Northwest Argentina. Her parents would drop her off before they went to work. “I grew up going to the butcher, the baker, the grocery store.”
After shopping came lunch. Julia’s food was simple but delicious: pico, beans, flaky beef empanadas, crispy croquettes made with carrot greens and rice.
These memories inspired Careaga to open a cafe, Jezabel’s, in Fitler Square in 2010, shortly after she moved to Philadelphia.
In 2018, it moved to West Philly, where she had opened Jezabel’s Studio, a tea house/interior design boutique/cooking class studio — a mashup that reflects Careaga’s many passions.
In 2019, she expanded to a third adjacent storefront and incorporated another avocation into the space: furniture making.
“The more that I think about it now, it is about experience,” Careaga says when talking about the evolution of her business. “I love to create things.”
As she’s settled into the West Philly location — painting the walls white, making her own tabletops, adding decor — she came to a realization: “I think it happened at some point last year. I sat down to drink coffee, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is it. It looks like grandma’s house.’”
Careaga discovered her grandmother’s influence on her career was something she shared with other Philly chefs, including Cristina Martinez at South Philly Barbacoa, Ana Caballero of Lost Bread Co., and Katie Briggs of Eclectik Domestic.
To honor this thread, she conceived of a way to showcase the food of grandmothers everywhere. Dubbed “If My Grandma Were to Cook for You…,” the series launched in 2019 and featured three-course lunches and dinners prepared by a guest chef. (Careaga and her team are scheming on ways to reboot the series for the pandemic era.)
“We just put this person on a stage and this grandma on a stage,” she says, adding that as she’s collaborated with these chefs, she’s discovered that abuelas everywhere seem to have a lot in common.
“We find there are a lot more similarities than differences when we’re cooking together. I’m gonna call it the wisdom of older generations, that they were a little more connected with Earth.”