PROFILE – Conversations With A Culinary Maven

Spotlight Article

Tina Riggins-Jones

One of the gifts of life in the towns on the north shore of Lake Chapala is the proliferation of local food markets. Vendors of homegrown vegetables and homemade food delights can be found throughout the week at varying locations.

I used to live right by one of these popular markets and made it a priority to be there very early before goods sold out. There was one vendor at this market who always had buyers waiting for opening time. If I arrived even a bit late, there would be a crowd gathered at her booth, and an extended wait time. I was intrigued. Who was this woman in the large-brimmed hat who commanded such fans? I learned her name was Tina Riggins-Jones.

Tina came from Georgia from a long line of family engaged in the food business. Her grandparents had a farm which she had moved from at the age of five. She still spent summers at this farm and understood food “from the roots up.” Her Grandma had taught her gardening, educated her on wild berries and introduced her to cooking through cooking classes she held. Tina was her grandma’s helper and an attentive student.

Time passed and Tina’s mother refined dishes to be more fine cuisine than rustic country. Her mother worked at Gilmour Academy (founded in 1946) in Ohio, an elite Catholic boarding school known to have hosted President Kennedy while he campaigned nearby. Her mom had been the chef at the event and Tina had assisted.

Customers at Tina’s booth may sample items with which they are not familiar. The menu has a southern U.S. slant, with dishes my Louisiana heritage had made me long for. Spicy gumbo, sweet potato pie, roasted chicken with garlic sauce or creamed spinach scalloped potatoes. My mouth waters just from the memories.

When I arrived home with my delectable dishes, I found that with little effort I was able to fill my table as though I had cooked for days. My husband was a great deal happier with these bountiful spreads than he had been with my hastily assembled, lazy-cook efforts at presenting his prior meals. I was a convert!

Over time I found that some of the people coming to the market made an ecological effort and brought their own containers to carry their purchased dishes. A bit of discussion with these pros enlightened me. Some of them had dietary restrictions and were able to make advance efforts to ensure that gluten-free items would be on the menu. Others reserved more popular dishes that tended to sell out (such as her renowned “fried chicken” that Tina assured me was crispy, but oven baked, a little secret for healthier eating.) These patrons were on an all-important email list and knew what each week’s offerings would be well in advance.

When I asked Tina about her secrets, she assured me that she had many tricks up her sleeve. She sources the freshest ingredients and treats her herbs and spices with respect and restraint. She also is aware of how food ingredients should be combined.

Once we shared a lunch and she assured me that she always brines her meats. This conversation had me Googling brining and marinating, as I was haphazard with these habits when cooking meats. Sometimes she uses the dry rub technique of preparing meats, where the spices are rubbed on the protein and then the meat is wrapped and rotated.

We discussed her philosophy of nutrition, which is extremely important to her. She avoids frozen or canned foods which may contain preservatives. She prefers her herbs fresh, rather than dried. Her menus are planned to be well-rounded with regards to nutritional requirements.

If you have not had the pleasure of tasting any of these delightful dishes, I would encourage you to introduce yourself to this local culinary star at the Monday morning market in San Antonio. I consider her food elevating the art of eating and adding to the quality of life for the lucky Lakeside recipients. How fortunate to know a woman who, in her words, “finds her happy space is in her kitchen.”

For more information about Lake Chapala visit:

Katina Pontikes

1 thought on “PROFILE – Conversations With A Culinary Maven”

  1. As a girl I loved playing dress up in my Momma’s closet. I have the distinct pleasure and a front row seat to glean from the “tricks up her sleeve.” Tina Riggins-Jones, my mom, is a Gastronomic Genius with flavor layering, sourcing the best local ingredients and supporter of sustainable practices. Filling “Big” culinary shoes is a family legacy and a generational blessing. I learned also from her mother, my grandmother. Your gift makes room for those who are fortunate enough to partake.
    You are the best!💕

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