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Froggy Days



Coqui the Chef is quickly becoming one of New York’s hottest celebrities, at least on the mascot circuit.
When the green and yellow frog marched in the Puerto Rican Day Parade last year, the press couldn’t get enough. Coqui was featured on local news shows, local websites and even in the New York Daily News, with reporters doting on his fancy chef outfit and adoring fans.
But Coqui isn’t just your typical celebrity frog — he’s out to spread the word about the importance of healthy eating to children and their families. Coqui promotes his healthy message at community events like the Puerto Rican Day Parade, and also hosts healthy cooking demonstrations at schools and other venues.
Coqui the Chef is actually Leader Tania Lopez, a mother-of-two who created the character a few years back after finding herself out of work. 
Being unemployed is never easy, of course. But Lopez found that one of the upsides of not having to go to work each day was that she had more time to cook healthy meals and pick out more nutritious foods. 
“I started losing weight, I was breathing better,” Lopez recalls. “I said, ‘OK, it has a lot to do with the food.’” 
Not only did her health improve, but Lopez became inspired to help others. During dinner one night, Lopez and her family talked about how much better they felt, and how eating healthy related to their Puerto Rican heritage. That’s when Coqui the Chef popped into her head. 
She soon got in touch with a graphic artist to bring Coqui to life. “And from there, it just grew,” she recalls.
Coqui the Chef is based off of a real-life species of frog called the coqui. Beloved in Puerto Rico, the coqui is only about an inch long, but it makes up for its small stature with its high-pitched sing-song sound. For Lopez, the little frog with the big voice was the perfect mascot to teach kids about healthy eating.
Coqui started out as just a cartoon character, with Lopez promoting the frog’s healthy message via a blog and social media outlets such as Twitter. Some of Lopez’s friends wanted the green amphibian to jump off the page, so they bought a mascot costume for Lopez to wear to greet people in the community. 
Lopez agreed to don the costume, which she says has been great for outreach. “The kids go crazy, and they want to know more,” she says.
Not that there aren’t difficulties.
“You can’t see my face, but you can hear me,” Lopez says. “It’s kind of difficult to hear me, sometimes I have to go to sign language.”
Although Coqui promotes good nutrition to all New Yorkers, Lopez is especially motivated to reach out to her fellow Latinos. Lopez grew up in the United States but spent time in Puerto Rico during her 20s. Puerto Rican food doesn’t always get a good health wrap, but Lopez notes that in Puerto Rico, the dishes are typically made from scratch and with fresh ingredients. 
That’s why Lopez (and Coqui, of course) show children and their families how to craft healthy meals. Lopez hopes that in the new year Coqui the Chef will host cooking demonstrations at local grocery stores, showing customers how to make healthy dishes with ingredients found in the market. 
“I try my best not to have all Puerto Rican recipes. I have a little bit of everything, because I really believe that trying new things is good for your health,” she says.