A chamoy recipe without salt? San Antonio Food Bank chef Kelly Daughety’s sodium-free Summer Chamoy recipe, made using only fruit, hibiscus, and dried ancho chile, is only one among many reasons she was chosen as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chef ambassador.

For the 2021-23 term, Daughety joins five other local chefs as ambassadors: Lilla Bernal of the Culinary Institute of America, John Brand of Hotel Emma, David Cáceres of La Panadería, Jesse “Chef Kirk” Kuykendall of Hotel Havana and Milpa, and Stephen Paprocki of Chef Cooperatives.

Since San Antonio was designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in 2017, chef ambassadors representing the city have traveled on educational missions to introduce local cuisine to locations around the world.

Daughety said she’s excited to bring San Antonio’s rich culture and cuisine to the world, but with her nutrition-focused twist.

Culinarily speaking, she said, “there is so much that San Antonio has been doing, and I can speak on that. I can totally speak on that.” As a native of the city, she knows its cuisine but said she’ll “probably show it in a really healthy way. Sorry, that’s just the way it is,” she said, laughing.

Meeting the challenge

Daughety stands out among the ambassadors as a chef for the food bank, where her official title is community wellness education chef. At the nonprofit organization’s headquarters on the Southwest Side, she works among 40 acres of crops, a teaching garden, a teaching kitchen, and a 210,000-square-foot warehouse that provides food resources to tens of thousands of hungry Central Texas residents each week.

The educational part of her role has her in the classroom — virtually during the pandemic — teaching student groups how to take control of their diets while taking better care of themselves, building nutritional awareness through simple, fun, hands-on recipes.

Though she got her start in fine dining, Daughety said the transition to serving her community through the food bank came at the right time in her life, as a single mom raising a toddler and needing a predictable schedule that restaurant work can’t offer.

Eighteen months into her new job, Daughety was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.

“Walking through that as a single mom with a 2-year-old scared the heck out of me,” she said. Yet she found compassion among her colleagues, who vowed to help her toward recovery in any way they could.

“What I learned from that was I might not have a large family, but they became my family. They just wrapped their arms around and said, ‘OK, what are your fears?’”

Daughety credits her supervisor, Nutrition, Health, and Wellness Director Luz Myriam Neira, with inspiring her to continue creating even while undergoing intensive cancer treatments.

“She’s a gardener,” Daughety said of Neira. “She looks at every person in our department and [asks herself] ‘What’s it going to take to allow them to bloom?’ She came through and gave me all of these really great creative projects so that I could stay focused on that.”

The result was Daughety’s Kids in the Kitchen program, an eight-class curriculum for third to fifth graders, in part so she could be with her daughter in the kitchen. Next she got involved with the healthy corner store project, which had her doing cooking demonstrations, “bald and all,” she said, an expression of grateful astonishment on her face. “There I am. … They didn’t hide me. They said ‘OK, this is where we’re at. Everyone has a season. This is your season, and we’re going to get through it.’”

A new focus

The cancer experience changed Daughety’s approach to food. Prior to that she didn’t eat particularly poorly, but like any chef she loved to sample every type of dish available.

“After I went through all of that, what changed [was] it just lit the fire of wanting to give as much as possible to my community and to my food bank, because they did so much for me. And then, in turn, I also want to show people how adaptable and easy it is — and affordable — to eat healthy.”

Many of her programs encourage people to move away from processed foods toward natural foods, even for the snacks we commonly reach for when peckish. Instead of potato chips, she demonstrates how easy it is to make kale crisps in the oven. The salt-free chamoy recipe comes out of the same effort, to substitute the ingredients that might lead to chronic conditions like diabetes with beneficial fruits, vegetables, fiber, and protein.

Kelly Daughety, community wellness educator and chef at the San Antonio Food Bank, has been selected as one. Of the ambassadors for the UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy.
Kelly Daughety, community wellness educator and chef at the San Antonio Food Bank, has been selected as one of the ambassadors for the UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

“A lot of our classes are tailored around decreasing sugar or refined products, reduction of sodium or salts, and increasing our herbs, spices, and all of that citrus to really bring flavors out. So we take a lot of traditional foods and show people how to make them in a healthy, balanced way,” she said.

On a mission

One innovative food bank program reaches far back into San Antonio history to derive a nutritious diet.

In concert with the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, the food bank manages a 50-acre indigenous crop farm on the grounds of Mission San Juan Capistrano, 10 acres of which are farmed using the acequias “just like it was 300 years ago,” Daughety said.

The fresh produce grown at San Juan contributes to the mission of teaching healthy food alternatives. Sweet potatoes grown there can be substituted for lard in traditional tamales recipes, and Indian popcorn on the cob provides a tasty, fun treat.

Chef Maria Palma, manager of the food bank’s new Farmacy division, served as a UNESCO chef ambassador in December 2018. Palma traveled to Macau, another Creative City of Gastronomy, with chef Elizabeth Johnson of Pharm Table to share San Antonio cuisine with an audience of chefs and media from around the world.

At the time, Palma worked as a program director for the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, managing a healthy cooking program for families.

“I presented a very simple tostada recipe, but super delicious, family-friendly, and that was representative of our Latino food heritage,” Palma said. Her goal was to show that “some of these ways that we’ve traditionally eaten for centuries are also just beneficial for our diets,” while being cost-effective.

In her current position with the food bank, “we work with a lot of families, just trying to show that they can eat healthy on a budget. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be culturally representative of who they are. And it doesn’t have to break the bank as well.”

When Daughety approached her to ask about the chef ambassadorship, Palma told her she’d be perfect for the job.

“I told her that she would make a great candidate because of her background and also because of her interest in working with children and developing curriculum,” Palma said. “And that community engagement piece is so unique with what she does.”

Daughety’s hope for her ambassadorship is to go beyond teaching nutrition on a budget and inspire people to draw on their inner chefs.

“I think sometimes the greatest creativity you can have is when you don’t have very much,” she said. “If you don’t have much, then you’re really having to think about what is this going to become.”

Summer Chamoy

Recipe developed by the San Antonio Food Bank

• 1/2 cup dried hibiscus flowers
• 2 whole plums, remove pits and slice in half
• 1 whole peach, remove pit and slice in half
• 1/4 cup dried cranberries
• 1 whole ancho chile, dried (optional)
• 1 cup hibiscus water, from cooking hibiscus
• 1 whole orange, juiced
• 1 whole lime, juiced

1. Rinse, then boil hibiscus flowers in 3 cups water for 20 minutes. Strain, then keep hibiscus water. (Tip: Chef Kelly recommends to first rinse well, then strain the water after boiling to reduce grit from the flowers)
2. Boil fruit and chile in 2 cups water for 10 minutes. Set aside until cool.
3. In blender, mix hibiscus, fruit and chili, puree until smooth. Use reserve hibiscus water to adjust consistency.
4. Finish by blending in the lime and orange juices. (Tip: Chef Kelly recommends to adjust fruits in the recipe according to what’s in season: peach, plum, pear, mango, apricot, papaya.)

For nutrition information, please click here.

This article has been updated to correct that the food bank works with San Antonio Missions National Historical Park to work the farm at Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...