Since 2017, Public Market Emeryville’s La Cocina pop-up kiosk has been a magic launchpad for notable new eateries like Nyum Bai, Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement, Mama Lamees, and A Girl Named Pinky. Now it’s time to welcome Carmen Figueroa, chef/owner of El Mesón de Violeta. Stop by the kiosk any Tuesday through Sunday, 11am to 8pm, to taste this inspired artisan’s handmade Chilean empanadas and baked goods like apple-filled empanadas, alfajores, and tortas de hojarasca (the scrumptious thousand-layer cake with thin layers of puff pastry, dulce de leche, orange scented pastry cream and fresh raspberries pictured above).
As chef owner of El Mesón de Violeta, Carmen Figueroa specializes in artisan handmade empanadas and other Latin American–inspired dishes. Originally from Santiago, Chile, Carmen grew up during the challenging times of the military takeover in the 1970s when people waited in endless lines for basic necessities. As Carmen helped her family’s matriarchs cook using whatever food was available, she discovered her cooking passion. On immigrating to the United States in the 1990s, she put down roots in Philadelphia, where she both fine-tuned her skills and taught aspiring chefs as she attended culinary school and worked in a variety of restaurants.
When she moved to the Bay Area in 2006, the weather and culture reminded her of home in Chile, and that inspired a dream of opening her own restaurant serving the food from her homeland. The name would be El Mesón de Violeta (Violeta’s Big Table) in honor of Violeta Parra, a legendary Chilean singer, songwriter, multi-media artist, activist (and also amazing cook), whom Carmen looked to for inspiration as she overcame many obstacles in her life.
One obstacle began to move aside as Carmen signed up with La Cocina’s nonprofit food business incubator program in 2016 and later was invited to join the nonprofit’s pop-up kiosk at the UC Berkeley student union, where she served the community for two years alongside a handful of other La Cocina businesses. As Carmen begins her residency in the pop-up kiosk at Public Market Emeryville, she is excited to have her own space for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
The Public Market Emeryville is open daily at 5959 Shellmound Street in Emeryville. El Mesón de Violeta is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11am to 8pm.