Tacos, quesadillas, ceviche — the dishes Mollie Guerra BS’13 serves through her pop-ups and meal-prep business may sound common. But the ingredients the Dallas chef incorporates into these otherwise-ordinary items are anything but.
“One of the things I’m really known for is my ceviche,” Guerra said. “It’s really popular because it includes a lot of combinations you don’t expect, like passionfruit.”
The UT Dallas grad, who received a business degree from the Naveen Jindal School of Management, makes vegan and shrimp versions of her best-selling ceviche, along with mushroom and cactus tacos and elote in a cup.
And although Guerra has found her calling, she wasn’t always convinced that cooking meals for others would be her career. She developed a love for cooking as a student in the culinary program at Richardson High School, but decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business in lieu of culinary school. Then, when she graduated from UT Dallas, she opted for a career in the corporate insurance world instead of the restaurant industry.
“I had lost a little bit of my passion for cooking when I was going to school,” Guerra said. “I was working two jobs as a full-time student and was interested in pursuing something in human resources.”
For seven years, Guerra climbed the ranks in the insurance industry, first working in personal insurance before advancing to high net worth insurance.
“It was great for me at the time,” Guerra said. “I was able to purchase my own home. I checked all the ‘American dream’ boxes.”
She may have been successful, but Guerra felt unsatisfied in her profession. Plus, she had started cooking again, which stirred up her original passion for creating unique meals for others.
“I felt like I had capped out there, and I was only 24,” Guerra said.
While scrolling through Facebook in early 2019, Guerra came across a casting call for the TV show MasterChef, a cooking competition on Fox featuring the popular chef Gordon Ramsey. Guerra showed up for the casting call, and weeks later found herself on a flight to Los Angeles to begin filming.
“It really gave me the motivation and confidence to pursue that passion,” Guerra said. “If I could get up and cook in front of Gordon Ramsey, I could do it for anybody.”
As a contestant, Guerra made it past the first episode before being eliminated from the show. But Ramsey’s advice to her before she returned to Dallas was enough to convince her that she belonged in the kitchen.
“He said, ‘I can tell you have the passion. Don’t ever stop cooking because the passion is there,’” Guerra said. “That really resonated with me.”
After her MasterChef experience, Guerra sold her home in order to establish her business, Chef Mollie G., LLC. Her entrepreneurial journey started with meal preparation services for family and friends, then branched out to corporate catering and weekend pop-ups at farmers markets and breweries.
“Being able to feed people brings me so much joy,” Guerra said. “You can put ingredients together that aren’t meant to go together, and people are so surprised by it. I hope I give people the same joy eating the food as I get from making it.”
Now, Guerra’s pop-up restaurant La Chefita is a regular at weekend staples like the Dallas Farmers Market and Celestial Beerworks, and she even offers custom tasting menus for private dinner parties. While she has established herself in the Dallas food scene, Guerro didn’t always feel ready to make the leap as a small business owner. Her UT Dallas education, however, helped establish habits that have stuck with her.
“There are so many dishes and techniques I was intimidated by,” Guerra said. “But you have to have the willingness to learn how to do it. That was really nurtured in me at UT Dallas — to learn more and ask questions.”