September 23, 2023


Be Inspired By Food

A behind-the-scenes look at her kitchen and cooking IRL

Michelle Barrera is the ambitious home cook we all aspire to be. Her well-stocked pantry is painstakingly organized. Her cookbooks are wrapped grade school-style in brown paper to prevent splatter damage. She taps detailed notes about every big family dinner into an iPad complete with a debrief on which dishes were hits and misses.

She’s thrown numerous shindigs for 100-plus guests in her home while simultaneously cooking every morsel of food and remaining a gracious hostess. But right now, Barrera has had it all the way up to here with the requests from her husband and three adult children for a beloved — but hugely labor-intensive — dessert she’s been roped into serving at regular family meals.

“My damn family asks for banana split pie way too often to the point that it pisses me off,” Barrera said.

Barrera has shared that distress with the world — she estimates her family requests the dish about 20 times per year — through her blog,, and Instagram account, @michellesipsandsavors, which the former school administrator launched in 2018 as a retirement lark.

Those efforts have become a second wind for the talented and charismatic storyteller, who’s harnessed a lifelong love affair with food into a second career as a social media influencer from her far North Side home near La Cantera Resort & Spa.

With her children out of the house, most of Barrera’s cooking these days is for show-and-tell on her blog and Instagram account, which feature oodles of photos and recipes she often develops from scratch — although she still prepares meals she and her husband, Leroy, enjoy without the scrutiny of a camera.

Barrera’s path to the kitchen started as many do: through her late mother, Charlotte Simms, whose influence is still felt through the colorful china plates her German-born mother handed down to her, which she uses in many of the photos she takes of her food.

She still cooks many of her mother’s recipes, too. Before her mother passed in 2004, Barrera persuaded her to type out about 100 of her recipes, which were then converted into a family cookbook, copies of which Barrera has shared with her three children.

It’s no wonder Barrera loves spending hours on end in her kitchen. She and her husband designed it themselves five years ago with sleek white tiles, lacquered black cabinets and glimmering stainless steel appliances, including two ovens.

The stove — a black, commercial-grade, six-burner Thermador — probably gets more attention than her husband. And who can blame her? Recessed lighting casts a perfect illumination on every counter, which Barrera keeps impossibly spotless while cooking.

Blogger Michelle Barrera cooks and documents countless dishes from her San Antonio kitchen.

Blogger Michelle Barrera cooks and documents countless dishes from her San Antonio kitchen.

Michelle Barrera /

A largely self-taught cook, Barrera, 60, draws from a wide range of influences and flavor palates, all of which are reflected in the dishes she prepares for her blog.

Trips to California in the mid-1980s exposed Barrera to the farm-to-table fare of Alice Waters at the legendary Chez Pannise in Berkeley, and she’s made multiple visits to the plant-forward Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, where founding chef Deborah Madison helped define a new, flavorful approach to vegetarian cooking. Cajun and Creole flavors of New Orleans, fiery dishes of the Southwest and herb-heavy food from the Mediterranean also make frequent appearances on Barrera’s table in real life and online.

As comfortable as Barrera is in the kitchen, making the leap to managing a food-focused blog wasn’t easy.

“I had a very hard time at first,” Barrera said. “The food photo is a whole other animal. I had to get committed to learning that craft, and it took a good year to do that.”

Michelle Barrera's gumbo is seen in her makeshift home photo studio as she prepares the dish for her blog,

Michelle Barrera’s gumbo is seen in her makeshift home photo studio as she prepares the dish for her blog,

William Luther /Staff

Barrera now captures stunning images of everyday dishes, such as sausage and shrimp gumbo, coffee-spiked martinis and, of course, her banana split pie.

Often, her husband winds up tapped for photo assistant duties. During a recent visit to the Barreras’ home, Michelle gave strict orders to Leroy, standing just off camera, to carefully pour a freshly shaken cocktail into a waiting glass. A few dribbles went astray, and he was duly chastised.

On the counter: Barrera never has to reach far for olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, cinnamon and the Mediterranean spice blend za’atar.

Her baby: Barrera has seen plenty of kitchen gadgets come and go, but the one that will always be close to her heart is a Braun food processor she’s owned for more than 30 years.

Celebrity chef crush: If Barrera could chose anyone from the pantheon of celebrity chefs to cook for, it would be Ina Garten, who’d be treated to a multicourse feast of Mediterranean delights and, of course, cocktails.

One cookbook everyone should own: “Southwest Tastes: From the Television Series Great Chefs of the West” by Ellen Brown.

Foodie travel dream trip: Barrera would love to spend weeks exploring the many street food vendors in Puerto Rico.

Food photography inspiration: When Barrera was learning the craft of food photography, she often turned to the Instagram page @foodtographyschool run by blogger Sarah Crawford of the blog

Favorite San Antonio restaurants: Barrera can frequently be found noshing tacos at Garcia’s Mexican Food on Federicksburg near Interstate 10 for breakfast or dining on the refined fare of Signature, Inspired by Chef Andrew Weissman in La Cantera at dinnertime.

A food-centric day trip every Texan should make: Few stores excite Barrera as much as Houston’s Phoenicia Specialty Foods. It’s her favorite place to stock up on Mediterranean and Indian specialty items.

A little saucy: Barrera always has a deep selection of condiments in her fridge. The ones in heaviest rotation include tahini, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce and maple syrup.

But Leroy, a retired law enforcement officer who spent years with the San Antonio Police Department’s SWAT team, knows better than to complain about his newfound sous chef duties. Nearly every dish Barrera prepares for her blog winds up becoming an indulgent lunch, dinner or happy hour libation the two share, often on their balcony featuring a breathtaking view of the San Antonio skyline.

“I’m well fed. Probably overfed,” Leroy joked. “It’s a good life, but I’ve got to walk a lot to keep the weight off.”

And he better keep those walking shoes ready. Barrera’s blog and Instagram account have led to sponsorship deals with multiple stores and food producers that are sure to keep Barrera cooking and documenting every step for years to come.

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