Beyond Borders – A Tenacious Culinary Grad’s Inspiring Travel from Ecuador to Austin

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Estefania Colamarco has a photo of herself at 12 or 13 years old, her face dusted with powdered sugar during a visit to her grandmother’s house in Philadelphia. Estefania, or Effy as she is known, was making alfajores – a popular South American sweet consisting of two shortbread biscuits with dulce de lache filling.

At the time, this seemed like a fun activity to bond with your granddaughter. But everything in that photo represents something that would show up in young Effy’s future—from the powdered sugar and alfajores to baking and the city of Philadelphia.

A handful of years after the picture was taken, Effy would travel from her native Ecuador back to the United States – a journey that would take her across many cities and to study at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts’ Austin, TX campus. Today, she has a Pastry Arts is a degree.She has a job in a luxury hotel and a dream to open her own bakery.

Effy’s journey often consisted of a jumbled experience and emotions, at times slowing her down and discouraging her, but at other times moving faster than ever before.

Effie, a teenager, discovered she loves baking and spending her time in the kitchen.

Baking in Search of Stability

Effy’s story begins in the vibrant city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, where she was born and raised. Guayaquil, Ecuador, is a city that thrives off the heartbeat of commerce. From the imposing sugar refineries, to the intricate hums of machine shops, to the serene shores and shrimp farms, to the bustling exchanges at the port of cruise liners, Guayaquil has it all. Money was always a problem for Effy’s family.

“There were times when I was growing up that we didn’t have money to buy protein; we would only eat eggs and rice,” she said. “And that’s fine, I love eggs and rice. But sometimes we wanted more and we didn’t have it.”

Ecuadorians can’t get jobs until they’re 18, she said, plus they usually need connections to get them. Effy, who had no job prospects, began making cupcakes in high school to sell. She was looking for stability, but also found something else.

“[When I baked] I would be like, ‘I like this,’ ” she said.

Effy’s older brother, who had left for the U.S. with their father when Effy was five years old, told her to join him. Effy had always wanted to go to the States, but she stayed at home. She felt that she would struggle if she went to the U.S. without finishing high school.

It was a year or two after her arrival that her brother urged for her to move to the U.S. and their father had been supposed to help her with her paperwork, but it all fell through. All the while, Effy said, she could have already been a pastry chef in Ecuador, but she didn’t have the money to get started.

Estefania Colamarco takes a selfie in the bathroom mirror of a restaurant. She is wearing a face mask, her hair is dyed blue, and she wears a black server’s apron and black tee shirt.

Effy takes a self-portrait while on a break from her job as a waitress at a restaurant, in Ecuador, in 2020.

The Scenic Route for Culinary School: From Ecuador, Philly, Kansas and Austin

Effy felt frustrated but was making progress with a list of things she wished to do as a child.

The first was pretty easy to finish—she dyed her hair blue, inspired by the main character in the movie Coraline. The next step was to have cosmetic surgery on her nostril. Others were a bit more difficult. Around 13, Effy had promised to buy a new stove for her mother to replace the dangerous hand me down unit in their house. She wanted to live in America one day.

Effy, when she was old and able to work, would save the tips she earned from her job in a restaurant to buy a stove. Tipping isn’t as common in Ecuador as it is in the U.S. so she might get a dollar or $5 if she is lucky. Effy managed to save $200 over the course of a few years, less than half what she needed, by saving a few dollars a month and receiving the universal basic income that Ecuadorians are entitled to. Her boyfriend chipped into the rest and together, they went to central city to purchase the stove.

As fate would it, on the very day Effy had finally purchased the stove, she received a call from her father saying he was preparing her papers so that she could depart for the U.S.

Effy moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in September 2021. She lived with her father. That lasted about three months—”the most difficult three months of my life,” she said—before Effy took her boyfriend up on an offer to move to Kansas and live with him.

She was happy to be with her partner, but not as much with Kansas. Effy was starting to sketch out her dreams and figuring out what she could do next. While researching her options, she found Austin and its culinary scene—and culinary school.

“And then I found Escoffier,” she said, referring to Escoffier’s Austin campus. “I saw everything online and I was like, ‘I’m gonna study there when I move.’”

The next year, 2022, Effy knew she couldn’t stay in Kansas anymore. She was still happy with her boyfriend, but Effy knew she wanted to be a chef, “and Kansas didn’t have it.” She Austin Campus.

A group photo with Estefania Colomarco and her best friend, brother, and her mom.

Estefania, second from the right, with her mother and brother, as well as her best friend.

As dreams begin to take shape, there is a flurry of activity.

Effy spent a month-and-a-half getting everything in order. This included securing financial aidEscoffier. In April of that year, she traveled to Austin.

The new situation was difficult to adjust to. Until then, she’d lived with family her whole life and her boyfriend for a short while after that.

“I had never paid rent and had never done anything by myself,” Effy said.

She moved several times before figuring out her housing situation. Then, she seemed to get into her stride. Effy completed her classwork and then finished an ExternshipThe Fairmont in Austin is a luxury restaurant and hotel.

Effy competed in a reality show called “The Show” in the spring 2023. No Borders Just Flavors, winning episode 3. It was a moment when past and present were brought together by food.

“On the show, we just try to educate people that, no matter where you’re from and no matter what style your cooking is, if you can share a meal with somebody and share a good story, they’re going to remember it for the rest of their lives,” she said. But her growth didn’t stop there.

“Maybe My Suffering Was Worth It”

Effy will win the 2023 World Championship in a year. Les Dames d’Escoffier scholarshipEscoffier is a non-profit organization that supports women in the hospitality, culinary and beverage industries. Escoffier taught Effy how to discover unique products. Volunteering Opportunities. She’s volunteered at a Formula One event and at Willie Nelson’s ranch, among other gigs.

She continued to work at The Fairmont after her externship for approximately six months. Effy worked at The Fairmont for about six months. She made croissants and danishes, helped with the in-room dining service, made hazelnut brownies when they ran out of them, etc. panna cottaShe also decorated pre-made cheesecakes. And she made bouchons (a dark chocolate miniature cake with powdered confectioner’s sugar on top).

Effy will graduate from Escoffier in 2023, just a little over a year after she arrived in Austin.

“It’s pretty crazy to me,” she said, “because I’ve been here (in the U.S.) two years . . . and I’ve graduated culinary school, I got into this cool show, I won a scholarship from Les Dames here in Austin. All these little things that I’m like, ‘Hmm, maybe my suffering was worth it.’ ”

Estefania Colamarco wears a face mask and holds a cake she made and decorated while a student at Escoffier

Estefania presents a cake proudly in her Escoffier uniform.

Honoring her roots while planning for the future

Today, Effy works at Colleen’s Kitchen, a neighborhood-style southern restaurant. She’s also selling baked goods again, mostly via word of mouth but also through an Instagram account called EffyBakesShe sells them at her shop. Effy’s grandmother passed away in 2022 and this is one way to honor her memory.

Her goal is to open her own bake shop in a brick and mortar location in a few years, but she’s also considering going back to school for another degree, and she’d like to keep expanding her pastry knowledge, perhaps via a stint in France or Korea. She enjoys pastry and baking because they are challenging careers.

“The thing I don’t like is if you mess up one single thing, everything will go wrong,” she said. “But at the same time, I like it because it makes you practice more. . . . So if you want to make a cake and you don’t measure it right, it’s not going to work out. There’s a science to (baking) and I think that’s why I like it.”

A group photo from the set of the show No Borders, Just Flavors.

Photo from the set of the show No Borders, Just Flavors. Effy can be found in the red apron on the right, behind the counter.

Advice for Others

For anyone thinking about attending culinary school, Effy has one piece of advice: “Just go for it.”

“Sometimes you can be like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll do it later.’ They should probably go ahead and do it, because they don’t know what good is going to come from it,” she said.

Effy was able to take something she loved and find more clarity about how to create a job she loves. She also found support along the way from financial aid to help with her job search. The tenacity she displayed from a young age started to pay off exponentially, compounding into more and more opportunities, and she didn’t hesitate to grab them when they appeared.

If you’d like to find out more about how a culinary education might help you create your own success story, whether you follow in Effy’s footsteps and pursue a career in Baking & Pastry ArtsExplore the Culinary artsContact our Admissions DepartmentClick here for more information.

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