Beyond Borders: A Tenacious Culinary Graduate’s Inspiring Journey from Ecuador to Austin

Discover Escoffier graduate Estefania Colamarco’s journey from Ecuador to the U.S. as she followed her culinary dreams.

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January 24, 2024 10 min read

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, who goes by Effy, was making alfajores, a popular South American dessert featuring two shortbread cookies with dulce de leche filling.

At the time, it seemed like just a sweet bonding activity between grandmother and 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 degree in Pastry Arts, a job at a luxury hotel, and a dream of opening her own bakery.

The journey was often a jumble of experiences and emotions all at once, at times slow and discouraging, while at other times, Effy moved toward her dreams faster than she ever imagined.

A closeup photo of Estefania Colamarco at about 13 years old. She wears glasses and is smiling, and she has powdered sugar on her cheek.

A teenage Effie discovered she enjoyed baking and spending 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. From the imposing towers of the sugar refineries to the intricate hum of machine shops, from the serene shores of shrimp farms to the bustling exchanges of cruise liners docking at the port, Guayaquil is a city that thrives on the heartbeat of commerce. Still, for Effy and her family, money was always tight.

“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. So, with no job prospects, Effy started making cupcakes to sell in high school. She was seeking stability, but found something else as well.

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

Around the same time Effy was selling cupcakes to make money, her older brother left for the U.S. and told Effy she should join him (their father had already left for the U.S. when she was about five). Although she had wanted to head to the States ever since she was little, Effy stayed home; she felt strongly that she would have a hard time if she left for the U.S. before finishing high school.

A year or two after arriving her brother urged her to head over to the U.S., and their father was supposed to help get her paperwork together, but it somehow 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 selfie while on break working as a server at a restaurant in Ecuador in 2020.

The Scenic Route to Culinary School: From Ecuador to Philly to Kansas to Austin

Although she felt frustrated, Effy was making progress on a checklist she kept of things she wanted to do when she grew up.

The first was pretty easy to finish—she dyed her hair blue, inspired by the main character in the movie Coraline. The next was to have some cosmetic surgery on her nose. Others were a little more difficult: at about 13, Effy had pledged to buy her mother a new stove to replace the dangerous hand-me-down unit in their house. And she wanted to live in the U.S. one day.

When she was old enough to work, Effy would set aside the tips she received from her restaurant job to save for the stove. Tipping is not common in Ecuador like it is in the U.S., so she would sometimes get a dollar, or $5 if she was lucky. A few dollars at a time, combined with a net monthly salary that Ecuadorians receive as a universal basic income, and over the next few years Effy scraped together about $200, a little less than half of what she needed. Her boyfriend chipped in the rest, and together they went to the center of the city to buy the stove.

As fate would have it, the day Effy finally managed to purchase the stove, her father called and said he had gotten her papers together so she could leave for the U.S.

In September 2021, Effy moved to the U.S. to live with her father in Philadelphia. 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 with her boyfriend, but not so much with Kansas. Effy was beginning to sketch the outlines of her dreams and figure out what her next move could be. 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 called the Austin campus.

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

Estefania Colamarco, second from right, along with her best friend, brother, and her mom.

A Flurry of Activity as Dreams Started to Take Shape

Effy spent about a month and a half getting everything in order, including securing financial aid from Escoffier. That April, she made her way to Austin.

The new situation took some adjusting 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 a couple of times before she got her housing situation figured out, and then seemed to hit her stride. Effy worked her way through her classwork, then completed an externship at The Fairmont, a luxury hotel and restaurant in Austin.

In the spring of 2023, Effy was a contestant on a show called No Borders Just Flavors, winning Episode 3. It represented a moment where past and present came together, with food as the binding agent.

“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”

Later in 2023, Effy won a Les Dames d’Escoffier scholarship, which supports the growth of careers and ongoing studies for women in hospitality, culinary, and beverage. And through Escoffier, Effy also learned about unique volunteering opportunities. She’s volunteered at a Formula One event and at Willie Nelson’s ranch, among other gigs.

After her externship, she continued working at The Fairmont for about six months. There, Effy helped make croissants and danishes for banquets; helped with in-room dining services; made hazelnut brownies when they ran out, plus panna cotta, and passionfruit tarts; she decorated premade cheesecakes; and she made bouchons, a dark chocolate mini cake with powdered sugar on top.

Perhaps best of all, a little more than a year after arriving in Austin, Effy graduated from Escoffier on June 30, 2023.

“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 Colamarco proudly presents a finished cake 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 EffyBakes, where she sells alfajores. 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. Pastry and baking are challenging careers, which is part of the reason she enjoys them.

“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.

A photo from the set of the show No Borders, Just Flavors. Effy is in the red apron at the right, just 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 took something she liked to do and found more clarity on how to create a career she loves, plus she found support at every step along the way, from financial aid to job search assistance. 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 Arts, explore the Culinary Arts, or another area of study, contact our Admissions Department for more information.


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