About Esencias Panameñas

About Us

Esencias Panameñas specializes in authentic Panamanian cuisine. We are a woman-owned, Black-owned, and Latina-owned catering company in Washington, DC, offering delicious Panamanian food for local pick-up, local delivery, or nationwide shipping. We also provide full-service catering for special events and corporate gatherings. 


A croissant stuffed with chicken curry
Succulents and cactus

The Name

Esencias Panameñas refers to the distinctive Panamanian spices that cause a unique aroma and flavor that is as pleasing to the senses as it is to the palate. Panama's key spice is "culantro" (not cilantro), as shown in the picture to the left. Culantro is a tropical perennial in the Apiaceae family that is widely used as a seasoning in many of our dishes. It is native to Central and South America and is not well known in the United States.

owner of Esencias Panamenas

The Owner

An Afro-Latina native of Panama City, Panama. Yadira Stamp realized her passion for the culinary arts at an early age, assisting her caterer mother in the kitchen as she prepared meals for her clients. Her first dream, however, was to become an Astronaut - a profession that back then was considered for "men only." Because of her determination, she attended an “all-boys” high school, against her mother's wishes, where she graduated 2nd in her class and obtained a full scholarship to attend the University. 

In 1980, she moved to Washington, DC, and stayed with family while attending the University. In 1982, she became homeless for choosing to stay in school. But even that did not stop her from graduating. Thanks to the help of strangers, she got back on her feet and obtained an Electrical Engineering Degree with a double minor in Computer Science and Robotics in pursuit of her dream. She was accepted into NASA's training and apprenticeship program (TAP). Unfortunately, NASA abolished the program in 1985, forcing her to switch careers. She became a Sr. Technical Designer and Analyst, which she did for 32 years.

Because her culinary interest never waned, she began her epicurean journey in 2009 at the Art Institute of Washington in Virginia, where she graduated cum laude. Rather than going to France for her externship, she opted to return to Panama, where she spent three months at the hands of culinary matriarchs in the countryside, who taught her about the wonderful world of native Panamanian gastronomy and the traditional cooking techniques she still uses today. In 2012, Chef Yadira founded Esencias Panameñas in Washington, DC— one of only a handful of Panamanian food businesses in the United States. Voted Best of D.C. three years in a row (2016, 2017, and 2018), Esencias Panameñas serves authentic Panamanian cuisine encapsulating the flavors of Panama, the Caribbean, and Central America and is the only Panamanian catering company in the U.S. to offer its food nationwide.

Over the past 35 years, Chef Yadira has maintained a "pay it forward" mantra. She has spent much of her career volunteering, mentoring, performing cooking demonstrations, and serving culinary creations throughout the Washington DC Metro Area. Always excited about the soulfulness of food, both in nutrients and taste, she volunteers to cook dinner at local food banks, DC Central Kitchen, and N Street Village–a community for women. She volunteered for the D.C. Latino Education Development Center by mentoring Hispanic women who are aspiring entrepreneurs.

In 2022, as a World Central Kitchen (WCK) member, she volunteered in Ukraine for five weeks. She helped prepare hundreds of thousands of hot, fresh meals each day for those close by and able to come by and pick them up. She also packed large grocery kits with ingredients to feed a family for about a week, which were loaded onto trucks to deliver to 1,000 cities and towns inside Ukraine to people who were afraid to go outside to ensure they had food.

Also, in 2022, Chef Yadira launched her first cookbook, Panama on a Plate: Favorite Foods from My Birthplace. She is working on her second cookbook and developing a signature line of carimañolas to be sold in stores nationwide.

She is a Chef, Speaker, Culinarian, Restaurateur, and Author. She is certified by the American Culinary Federation as a Certified Executive Chef (CEC). In addition to cooking, Chef Yadira enjoys culinary reading, researching, and experimenting, as well as supporting various philanthropic organizations in her community. Her resilience, determination, polished culinary skills, and courage to follow her dreams despite her many adversities have proved to be the right ingredients for her success.

She has been featured on Television, in online magazines, and on several blogs in Panama City, Panama, the DC Metropolitan Area, and throughout the United States.

You can learn more about Chef Yadira and hire her for speaking engagements on her website, www.ChefYadira.com