Brit Katie Brierly is a master at Mexican cuisine
Don’t be deceived by the British heritage. Katie Brierly is a foodie.
True, England isn’t exactly known for its cuisine. Even the fish and chips aren’t that great, she said.
But Brierly doesn’t fancy European food or flavors. She cooks Mexican food.
“I know,” Brierly said, as if she’s had to answer a thousand questions about being British and preferring Mexican food.
What Brierly is most famous for is her pork green chili that she sells by the pint.
She won the people’s choice award for best chili in 2008 and 2009 in the SouthWest Arbor Fest chili cookoff at Lincoln Park.
Although Brierly only began cooking her chili professionally several years ago — after she thought she was retired — learning how to cook Mexican food has been a passion for most of her adult life.
Her interest in Mexican food began in high school when she dated a Hispanic man who became her first husband.
The man’s grandmother spoke little English. Brierly spoke little Spanish. The language barrier never interfered in the kitchen.
“I learned how to make Mexican food just by watching this wonderful woman who just connected with me for some reason,” Brierly said. “Boy, she commanded that kitchen.”
Brierly took everything she learned from her ex-husband’s grandmother and began to make her own tortillas, chili and more.
In fact, the name Brierly uses for her business, “Guera’s Chili,” was inspired by her ex-husband’s grandmother. Guera means “white girl” in Spanish. It is the name her ex-husband’s grandmother called Brierly.
“‘Katie’s Chili’ was probably the worst name,” Brierly said. “Katie isn’t even a Mexican name.”
Brierly’s best friend, Dolly, still lives in England and encouraged Brierly to use “Guera’s Chili” for a business name.
“She’s my BFF,” Brierly said. “(Dolly) said, ‘Remember what grandma used to call you? Guera, guera.’ ”
The name stuck, and Brierly loves it. In the three years since she started selling Guera’s Chili, more than one Hispanic person in the county has approached Brierly in disbelief that a British woman could make delicious Mexican food, she said.
“I have a gentleman who comes — I’m not going to tell you who he is because is wife would kill him — and asks for my chili,” Brierly said. “The irony is they have a Mexican restaurant in Mesa County. He just likes it. Her food is good, too. Mine is just different.”
Although Brierly credits her ex-husband’s grandmother for teaching her how to make Mexican food, Brierly credits her youngest son John Larkin for inspiring her to sell it to other people. Larkin and his wife moved to Grand Junction in 2003 to open a Stanley Steemer branch.
Larkin spent the next three years trying to convince his mother to move from Denver to Grand Junction.
“He said, ‘Mom, we haven’t found chili like yours,’ ” Brierly said.
In 2006, Brierly left Denver where she worked as a medical assistant for nearly 30 years, to retire in Grand Junction.
Even while working in the medical field, Brierly made food for her coworkers. At her previous employer, a dermatology clinic in Denver, Brierly used a toaster oven to make chicken enchiladas.
In 2007, she prepared to open a business, obtaining the necessary licenses and permits to serve food.
Now, Brierly stays busy making chili at The Business Incubator Center, 2591 B 3/4 Road, where she stores and sells her product. She also sells chili during the summer at farmers markets in Grand Junction and Palisade.
Brierly uses free-range pork, and no MSG or wheat products in her chili. It is low-fat, which is important to her because she hates fat. She rips fat off bacon when she eats it.
“I want to make it simple, but I want to make it good,” Brierly said. “If you don’t take pride in what you do who else is going to?”
Brierly is appreciative of her local, loyal customers, but she is ready for her chili to hit the road.
She doesn’t know how many letters and e-mails she has written to the White House, but Brierly is determined for President Barack Obama to try her chili.
After all, Brierly became a U.S. citizen on Sept. 11, 2008, specifically so she could vote for Obama. She registered to vote that same day.
When the Obama family stopped in Grand Junction during the presidential campaign in 2008, Brierly went looking for Michelle Obama to deliver chili.
“Security wouldn’t let me,” Brierly said.