Jessica Pinto’s passion for cooking started when she was a little girl. Jessica’s mom was a police officer who worked long hours, and her stepdad wasn’t in the house much; it often fell upon Jessica, as she grew up, to figure out how to feed herself and her sister. She started by making rice and beans, even though she didn’t have instructions or a recipe. Sometimes the rice was hard; other times, the beans were watery. No matter what Jessica created in the kitchen, though, her mom encouraged her to keep cooking.
“I remember once I was on the fire escape, and I took the leaves from the tree. I combined the leaves with flour and sugar and thought I could eat it,” Jessica says. “I went into the kitchen and started frying it like it was a pancake. My mom asked me what the green was from, and I said it was from the tree! From then, I just kept on cooking.”
As she reached her teenage years, Jessica became a better cook but still had much to learn. She turned to YouTube to teach her how to make things like Spanish beans and kept experimenting in the kitchen. She eventually started feeding her friends, her cousins, anyone who came over. Jessica told her mom that she was going to be a chef and have her own catering hall. At 17 years old, Jessica moved out of her childhood home and got her own apartment.
“I always had friends over. I was a teenager; it was my first apartment. One of my friends, Carlos, kept telling me, ‘Jessica, you really need to sell your food.’ I said, ‘Okay, maybe one day.’ I just kept cooking. I just love cooking,” she expressed.
At 23, Jessica became pregnant with her first child. She maintained the dream of cooking professionally, but she didn’t know how to kickstart it into motion. She was working at Home Depot when she started making empanadas for the people around her. Later, she had her second child. Around that time, she noticed that many people were asking her to cook food for them, but she didn’t have a license to sell her food. Instead, she cooked food for people’s parties and families, free of charge. Again, her friend, Carlos, encouraged her to take the steps to be able to make a profit off of her food. Jessica obtained the necessary licenses to be able to sell her food and started marketing herself on Instagram. With the help of her friends, Jessica’s business, Jessica’s Frituras Catering, was officially born.
Jessica was saving to either purchase a hall or a food truck when she became pregnant with her third child. She had also just become a single mom. Her full-time job at Home Depot paid the bills, but Jessica couldn’t stop dreaming about cooking. Even her coworkers at Home Depot encouraged her to cook. Jessica was hesitant to leave her full-time job, worried that she wouldn’t be successful or that she wouldn’t have the resources to support her three kids. But she still believed in herself and her dream. She started catering weddings and investing every penny she could right back into her business.
Two years ago, Jessica moved from New York to Florida. Here, she encountered a variety of food trucks that solidified her dream in a more concrete sense; she knew she wanted to own a food truck. She met a man who helped her save to achieve her dream, and by cooking and committing to selling her food, Jessica was able to design a truck that could fit her business’ needs and represent her.
“My food truck was very personal for me because I’m a Lupus warrior. It resembled everything about it. It resembles where I was born and raised, resembles where I’m from, resembles my Lupus warrior stuff,” Jessica stated. Her dream had finally come true.
However, on their way to their very first event at Nona Adventure Park to show off her food truck, her dream shattered. An unknown driver in a BMW was racing on the highway and decided to cut off the truck pulling the food trailer. In an attempt not to collide with the car in front of them, the truck swerved, causing the trailer to rotate, snap off the hitch, and turn over three times on the highway. In it, the brand-new appliances, plumbing system, and food for Jessica’s debut event retained unsalvageable damage. Jessica lost everything.
“It’s sad because I worked really hard. I sold empanadas and Southern plates; I did whatever I had to do, and now it’s gone,” Jessica said. “I’m not giving up. I’m still selling plates. It’s not going to be easy to get back up because it’s a really, really big loss … years of saving. But it’s time to continue.”
Despite the disappointment, Jessica is still cooking, putting unique twists on classic dishes and selling her plates via weekly menus posted to her Instagram. Though she doesn’t know how to make everything her customers ask of her, Jessica is willing to learn and grow her expertise. She’s made plates ranging from empanadas to gumbo to lomo saltado and a variety of pasta dishes. Jessica is determined to come back from this accident stronger than ever before.