The Quesadas

by Claire Cella • Photography by Kate LeSueur

The Quesada family is prismatic. Not because of the rainbow-striped skirt that greets me at their front door, worn by galloping younger daughter Marcelle. And not because of the productive prowess that emanates from parents Celeste and Adrian, founders of Craftbox Agency and Level One Studios, respectively. No, this family of four (not including a dog, two parakeets and three chickens) is prismatic in the way that they’re multidimensional—at once crisp, clean and polished, but at the same time, courageously colorful, often in refreshingly untethered ways.

As they cook together in their narrow kitchen, they each bring something to the project. Adrian’s admiration for his family is pronounced, while Celeste’s energy spins around an infatuation with the taste, texture and smell of spice—from chopped peppers, to dashes of hot sauce, to heavy sprinkles of cumin. Their older daughter Amelie’s perhaps-inherited meticulousness surfaces as she slowly stacks avocado atop perfect triangles of quesadilla. And Marcelle’s rompish little spirit bounces around the room and never ceases to be anything but cute.

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The family’s proud Latin American heritage is ever-present—in the eclectic art that fills almost every white space of wall, in the Spanish they use with fluency and in the piquant dishes they’re preparing today. Celeste chops carrots, rainbow chard and onions for a traditional Mexican breakfast dish similar to huevos en rabo de mestiza (poached eggs in tomato-chili sauce), but the Quesadas don’t really have a name for this dish—they just know they love it. The idea for it came from their favorite breakfast spot, La Estancia (in Laredo) where they often visit extended family. As she chops, Celeste reminisces about the homemade tortillas and fiery red salsas her grandmother made her as a child. Meanwhile, Marcelle and Amelie rummage in the fridge for their own tortillas to take out to the chickens, each sneaking little crescent bites from the flat rounds with not-so-secret giggles.

“I do not make homemade tortillas, though,” Celeste admits with a laugh. “Because it’s 2015, I’ve got two kids and I’m completely overbooked.” But she does cook. “I don’t know if I’m a good cook,” she says, “but I do like to. I don’t really use a cookbook though—I’m not very precise.” This is a surprising admission from an accomplished events planner, but she quickly explains that it’s all about the colors. “I’ll look at a dish or a group of ingredients and say, ‘Okay, it’s got a lot of red and orange, but we need some green in there.’ I’m definitely into making sure there’s a color balance. I don’t like when things are too much of one color. I’m not a purist.”

She incorporates this variation into Craftbox Agency—the business she started in 2010 as a platform for doing what she does best. Over the past 17 years, Celeste has been producing momentous events such as the Austin Music Awards and the Austin Film Society’s Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards; organizing fundraising galas for nonprofits such as the SIMS Foundation; and managing marketing strategies for Austin retailers, restaurateurs, musicians and nonprofits. “I named it Craftbox because I wanted to be very diverse and to mimic a toolbox that I could pull out any tool that I needed for a specific job or hire the people that I wanted to work with,” she says.

Adrian is also a master at diversification of talent. He’s the drive behind Level One Studios, the production studio and creative music lab based in their house. Adrian has produced music for David Garza, Daniel Johnston, Suzanna Choffel, and the band The Sword, in addition to musical scores for documentaries such as “Inside the Circle.” But this multi-instrumentalist and Grammy award winner is also renowned for his own philharmonic flair in bands such as Spanish Gold, The Echocentrics, Ocote Soul Sounds, Grupo Fantasma and most recently, Brownout.

quesadas2The Quesadas’ daily menu often mimics Celeste’s and Adrian’s natural ability to variegate. Main meals are usually vegetable gumbo, stew or hash, which serve as hearty, colorful scoops to place atop spaghetti, beans, rice or…“Pizza!” Marcelle enthusiastically chimes in from below, causing everyone in the cozy kitchen to laugh. She and Amelie have since snuck back inside and now clutch two brown eggs in their small hands. As the dish comes together, Celeste adds the sauce to the sautéed vegetables, then fills the deep basin of the warmed molcajete, a Mexican version of a mortar, used to grind, mix and serve. On top, she adds cheese and breaks the fresh eggs into wells. With all of the Quesadas in the kitchen, it’s easy to imagine the chaos that can erupt during early weekday hours. As if on cue, Marcelle tugs on her mother’s pants pleading for a bowl of edamame, while Amelie insists that she would rather eat quesadillas. Celeste and Adrian comply, smiling. “We’re a very normal family of four,” Celeste says. “There are no pretenses about this.”

Family is, after all, the foundation for Celeste’s and Adrian’s relationship. Although the two met through work 13 years ago and connected through their shared passions for music and cultural arts, it was their unconventional and unyielding desire for a family that kept them together. “You don’t always find people with careers in this industry who want a family,” Adrian says. “People were shocked,” Celeste says about her decision to move from New York to Austin to be with Adrian. “I had been working for the BBC. But I felt certain that it wasn’t that I wouldn’t have a career; it was just that, I wanted it all—a family, my own business—and I was just going to go for it. Our little casita Quesada was meant to be. This is what it was going to be.” And with that, the dish is ready to come out of the oven—the eggs now ivory and gold, nestled in red and green and orange. Celeste walks the molcajete outside where it now sits atop a table cloaked in white lace, embellished with succulents and graced by not one but three bottles of hot sauce.

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Outside, it’s much quieter, but there’s still a soundtrack: the padding of small feet in the wet grass, the clink of utensils, the clucking chickens and the giggles from Marcelle and Amelie. Adrian digs into the dish—noting that the one in Laredo is just a simple red ranchero sauce. “But this one, here—ours—we definitely add more vegetables: carrots, rainbow chard and herbs,” he says, as he scoops a pile onto Celeste’s plate, the thick crimson sauce spreading over it, ready to be soaked up by waiting tortillas. “There’s definitely more color here.”