They say that what you put in your mouth each day could make the difference between a highly productive, fast-paced lifestyle and a slow, listless one. Maybe eating Pollo con Mole from El Patron wasn’t exactly what they had in mind, but for Joy Rachelle Murrieta, that’s the dish that breathes life into her day and kicks off the high energy she needs to pursue her goals as an entrepreneur.

“I grew up with a lot of Mexican traditions in my house – despite being bi-racial – and one of the biggest traditions is involving food,” says Murrieta.

When the Europeans arrived in Mexico in 1517, Mexico’s indigenous people included Aztecs of the central interior, the Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula, and Zapotec in the south. Their diet consisted of mainly corn, beans, peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, and herbs. The Spanish explorers introduced livestock and after ruling Mexico for over 300 years, they too left a mark on the culture, people, and cuisine of the indigenous people. Today, Mexican cuisine has become a staple in Murrieta’s family culture and remains at the epicenter of holidays and special occasions.

“My family loves to feast when we get together. Christmas time is the best because we get to feast on homemade enchiladas and play dominoes for hours,” she says. “I feel the strongest sense of home during the holidays because feasting is such a big part of our family dynamic and culture.”

Murrieta is a musician in addition to serving as the co-founder and program director for Main IDEA – a creative non-profit creating a community for children to experience various art forms at no cost during the summer. Both of these roles have led Murrieta to understand the power of food and its invaluable place in society. From working with low-income families to help create balanced meals to getting herself through the day, she understands the constant struggle to eat well. “I can be, kind of a workaholic, and will often find myself forgetting to eat during a busy day,” she says. “When I forget to eat, I am a ravenous force to be reckoned with and I am working on changing that. I am working on creating healthier eating habits, including having meals with more veggies and proteins and less empty carbs and sugar.”

While the goal to make healthier food decisions is one that Murrieta takes seriously, it can be hard to do when Mexican traditions call for delicious dishes like Chilaquiles – a traditional breakfast dish featuring lightly fried corn tortillas topped with green or red salsa, scrambled or fried eggs, and pulled chicken. Or, Tamales – a pocket of corn dough stuffed with either sweet or savory filling, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. And, epic desserts like Churros – a cinnamon-sugar, fried treat meant to be dipped in hot chocolate. “I love homemade chicken enchiladas and breakfast burritos,” said Murrieta. “But baking is my favorite winter hobby. I love baking all sorts of things – pies, cakes, muffins, cookies, etc. If I could, I would seriously eat dessert with every meal. I have such a sweet tooth. – see how hard it is to eat healthy?”

“The wonderful thing about eating is that everybody does it. It transcends the boundaries of language and culture because everyone enjoys a satisfying meal,” she said. “I have a big family, so I am used to cooking for a lot of people and if I had a group of friends come over, I would stick to what I know: Mexican food. But, if cooking was not an option and we craved Mexican, then I’d opt for El Patron – the best Mexican food in Worcester, in my opinion. With tamales, sopapillas and mole, you can’t go wrong.”

Although Murrieta is a die-hard, Viva La Raza kind of woman, she doesn’t limit her taste buds to that of only Mexican food. “My boyfriend, Chris, and I love to eat. We enjoy savoring all the good eats in Worcester and make it a priority to try new restaurants and revisit our favorites each month,” she said. “Not in the mood for Mexican? Then I would suggest Lock 50 – especially on a night that I am performing there. There is plenty of seating – both inside and out – and their food and bar are amazing. The ambiance is beautiful and the servers are friendly. They also have the best coffee in Worcester.”