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As the daughter of Mexican migrant workers who used to pick cherries and peaches along the West Coast and then return to Mexico in the off-season, nobody expected much from Susie Jimenez, apart from maybe a high school diploma.

When she told everyone she'd make it to the Food Network one day, those close to her thought it was all talk.

But last month, following years of dedication, the 32-year-old Jimenez ended up as one of two final chefs competing for his or her own cooking show on the "Food Network's Star" reality competition.

"She got second place, but for me, she was the winner," said her oldest sister, Cecilia Jimenez. "She did something that we really didn't expect."

Now, to her family and many back in their hometown of Michoacan, Mexico, Susie is living proof that the American dream is not an illusion, even for those from the humblest of backgrounds.

"I remember I hated the fact that I never had a summer because I was always stuck having to go out to the fields," said Jimenez, who runs her own catering business in Aspen and is now working on opening up a restaurant, a long-time dream. "But I think growing up that way definitely helped me push myself a little bit more on the show."

Overcoming obstacles is no foreign concept to Jimenez. Encouraged by a close friend who saw her potential in the kitchen, she decided to enroll in the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco when she was 20 - despite objections from her family.


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For starters, it was an unfathomable expense for the working-class family. But there was also the issue of her career choice.

"My mom thought it was crazy that I wanted to be a chef because she was so used to seeing a woman in the kitchen," said Jimenez. "She was like, 'You can't make a career out of this.'"

But Jimenez wasn't deterred. Not even after her father died unexpectedly a few months into her stint at culinary school. In fact, she says her father's last words to her telling her to pursue her dreams were what kept her going.

When she graduated 10 years ago, Jimenez obtained an internship at The Renaissance Restaurant, an upscale French eatery in Aspen. She has been in Colorado ever since.

Although she was born in California, Jimenez is undeniably proud of her Mexican heritage and is quick to point out that she grew up in a household where cooking was a family affair that brought them all together. She holds her mom and both her grandmothers responsible for her love of cooking and for unknowingly training her to become the successful chef she is today. 

"We are all very proud to have someone like Susie in our family," said her sister Cecilia.

"She's the perfect example of how someone who has the desire and the dreams can actually make it."


RECIPE

Ceviche de camarones con crema de limón y jalapeños

Ingredients:
12 each shrimp, deveined and cut in half
1 cup lime juice
1 jalapeño, diced
1 roma tomato, diced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 chile de arbor, chopped roughly

Instructions:
In a bowl place shrimp and lime juice. You can marinade them up to 4 hours or overnight depending on your preference. Strain except for 2 Tablespoons of the lime juice, add the rest of the ingredients and serve on a tostada or a lettuce cup.
w Lime Crema
1/4 cup crema fresca
1 lime juiced and zested
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Mix in a bowl with a whisk. Spoon a nice amount over the ceviche.

Susie Jimenez