AUSTIN, Texas - One year ago this week an Austin woman was placed on a path to become one of the youngest female pitmasters in the United States.
Eliana Gutierrez was made pitmaster’s apprentice to Miguel Vidal at Valentina’s Tex Mex Barbeque on her 20th birthday in April 2020.
"I understand it’s a little different to have a 21-year-old girl smoking like 40 briskets and serving them up. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t take a big toll on me like mentally to push through that. But at the same time, I’ve been doing it for a good reason." said Gutierrez.
She told FOX 7 Austin this week a young girl and her father on a ‘barbeque tour’ requested to meet with her and Vidal. "That was really cool," she said.
As a child, Gutierrez lived down the street from Valentina’s. At age 17 she began working for the Vidal family. She started out as a food-runner and quickly worked her way up.
"This, it felt different. I definitely felt the family atmosphere, smelling the smoke. The mesquite. It reminded me of growing up. This was somewhere where I was like, I need to be here," she said.
As a high school student, Gutierrez planned to become a journalist. When she started working at Valentina’s her plans quickly changed. "I was like ‘hey guys I’m sorry I just wanna work.’" she laughed. "I graduated and I was like ‘alright cool more hours.’"
Gutierrez quickly grew to look at her colleagues as family, especially the Vidals. "They really took me under their wings," she said.
Her co-worker Jada Hamilton says she is a "leader," known to analyze her colleagues' strengths. "She puts us where she thinks that we’ll do our best and it works out really well," she explained.
Gutierrez is a self-described perfectionist, finding joy in small details. "Our motto is that everything is made with love. So to us, to me that’s a really big deal, I have it tattooed on my body for a reason," she said.