Feb 28, 2008

PERSONALITY PROFILE / The Japan Times 2005


Margarita Carrillo de Salinas


"The most important room in our house in Mexico was the huge kitchen. We six children went in with our bicycles; our mother was cooking, we all helped. Our grandparents were there -- our father, a lawyer, was always encouraging family life around the table. That is the way I got my interest in food," said Margarita Carrillo de Salinas. Chef of the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture, Margarita is a frequent visitor to Japan. She comes here whenever she is to take charge of Mexican food festivals and gala dinners.

Most recently she was here for the Mexican pavilion at the Aichi Expo. She is a keen, warm-hearted observer, applauding every scene. "I love Japan," she said. "It is a beautiful country."

Belonging to a family with a strong Mexican cooking tradition, Margarita always cooked. "It was part of my life. I never thought of it as a profession," she said. She took a BA in education at the National University of Mexico. "I always liked to teach adults, and made adult teaching my specialty," she said. After training in London, she added the qualification of teaching English as a second language.

She married an economist who was a public servant. "We moved to a very small area in the hills, and I stopped going to my school," Margarita said. "I am very active, and needed something to do. So when some friends asked me to give cooking lessons, I agreed. In a short time I had several groups, and was giving lessons full time. Then I went back to university to study culinary arts, as I like to do things properly."

By that time, Margarita had two little boys. "My husband backed me up," she said. "I had to attend classes very early in the morning, so he dressed the boys and took them to school. I couldn't have done all I did without my roots, my parents and grandparents and my husband." She studied hard, in several international cooking schools that included the Culinary Institute of America and Le Cordon Bleu. She had a third son. Now, she said, she has "dedicated more than 20 years to researching, studying, teaching and cooking Mexican cuisine."

Her expertise covers every aspect of food: its sources, its place in cultures, its nutritional values. Her mission is to rescue traditional Mexican food from obscurity and outside influences, and to have its value recognized. She advocates "slow food," and campaigns for strict hygiene and the improvement of working conditions for women in restaurant kitchens.

Margarita works with a group of chefs, historians and anthropologists in collaboration with the National University of Mexico.

She said: "In our group we go to little places all over the country to see what they are cooking, and to put it down in black and white. Country people don't know about weights and measures, but we have to make their methods possible for others to follow. People always used to eat things they could catch, like insects and small creatures living in ponds and rivers. They used the produce they could grow, like corn, chilies, beans, and the animals they could domesticate. Mexico is so big, many remote districts have no electricity, no refrigeration. Formerly Mexican food was not fried. We are concerned with tradition, one reason for getting away from frying. People used saucepans and cooked on grills, hot stones, in pits. We had no sugar until the Spaniards came. Honey was the only sweetener. We eat chocolate in different ways, in sauces and melted with water and honey to make a kind of sacred drink."

Mexico, she continued, has many festivities, and food is often related to religious occasions. "Such food is traditional," she said. "Many of the recipes I cook nowadays are in danger of being lost. Modern people say cooking is too much work, they don't want to make anything like that any more, it is easier to open tins. But cooking is value."

As well as her frequent worldwide travels, Margarita is executive chef of a restaurant in Mexico City, and co-owner and executive chef of two others in different locations. She is the chef-owner of an original ice-cream factory, which her husband runs. She said, "The most important thing is that this work allows me to share a little bit of my country, that I am so proud of. The most important thing about Mexico is its culture and its food. Sharing food is like sharing the soul."

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Saturday, Oct. 22, 2005


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