Food: ‘The Frugal Chef’ adds Texas twist to South American arepas

Mary Ann Allen, who owns Preston Hollow’s Arepa TX, has 40 million hits on her YouTube channel, The Frugal Chef. (Photo by Kathleen Kennedy)
Mary Ann Allen, who owns Preston Hollow’s Arepa TX, has 40 million hits on her YouTube channel, The Frugal Chef. (Photo by Kathleen Kennedy)

Preston hollow’s internet star

Thousands of subscribers and 40 million views isn’t enough for Mary Ann Allen to consider herself a YouTube sensation.

Allen wasn’t seeking internet fame when she branded her online personality as The Frugal Chef nine years ago. She created her blog and YouTube channel after she entered a Food Network video contest on a whim. Allen didn’t place in the competition, but it sparked her interest in creating videos.

“I thought, ‘I can show people how to cook healthy, easy, inexpensive food,’ ” she says.

The channel and its Spanish counterpart, La Cocina Frugalista, are popular in places that Allen never anticipated.

When her husband introduced himself to a man at an airport in Vanautu, the man immediately asked if he was related to The Frugal Chef.

It’s funny for Allen, whose entrepreneurial spirit guided her to running a spa in Bolivia, a deli in New Hampshire and a real estate business in California. Her latest project is Arepa TX, a Preston Hollow-based restaurant that fuses Venezuelan-style arepas — corn cakes typically filled with meat, vegetables or cheese — with familiar flavors like barbecue brisket or chicken tinga.

Her son, Jammil Handal, and daughter-in-law, Susana Arce, pitched the idea to Allen while she was living in Guam. They wanted to be the first to introduce arepas to Dallas.

Allen packed up her belongings and moved in with her family, where they spent six months experimenting with recipes that incorporate flavors from many of the places she has lived.

“When I created the menu, because it’s such a new product, I didn’t want it to be a full education,” Allen says. “It’s Texas friendly.”

The majority of the restaurant’s offerings are gluten-free, and they serve a few American staples for picky eaters. Allen also concocts homemade custard pops for dessert and champagne cocktails for brunch.

Running the restaurant and maintaining her website hasn’t yet made her tired of cooking at home. She has a collection of 200 cookbooks, and she jokes she reads them like novels.

“I go to bed thinking about food,” she says. “I wake up thinking about food.”

Arepa TX
5940 Royal Lane
Arepatx.com

(Photo by Kathleen Kennedy)
(Photo by Kathleen Kennedy)
(Photo by Kathleen Kennedy)
(Photo by Kathleen Kennedy)

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