The Unstoppable Gabriela Cámara: Super-Chef, Author and Food Advisor to Mexico’s President

Gabriela Cámara BeLatina
Photo Credit SFgate.com

There are times we might feel as though our desires are halted by superficial limitations society puts on us, while sometimes we are reminded that limits don’t exist. Gabriela Cámara sure does a great job at reminding us of our capabilities. Cámara is a reputable cook and author who maintains Mexico’s vibrancy embedded within her. Aside from that, she has managed to tackle the culinary world and social justice with impeccable grace. The effect of her powerful impact even landed her the opportunity to work for Mexico’s president as his food advisor recently. It is apparent that her unswerving ambition wasn’t sought after in vain. 

Though Gabriela Cámara was born in Chihuahua City, her culinary journey began in the town her family moved to when she was younger, Tepoztlán. This is a town south of Mexico City that has been donned as a quick vacation spot for locals in nearby towns. She lived happily with her brother, her Mexican Father, and her Italian-born mother. Since the Cámara’s were very unconventional, there was not much cooking done by either parent. When they did, her hippie parents would use the ingredients from their yard and cook them on their solar ovens. Yet, most of the time, both of her parents were busy with their professions. Her father worked as an educator, while her mother was an art historian who would constantly be caught up doing research. Regardless of what was happening around her, Gabriela Cámara was just displeased at knowing that her household didn’t make their own tortillas by scratch. Therefore, Cámara resorted to learning her way around the kitchen by cooking with the guests her parents would allow in their house. Some of these guests included Nicaraguan or Guatemalan refugees that would be passing through before making their way to Canada with Amnesty International. Cámara would take this opportunity to take cooking pointers. Even though these were memorable teachers, she remembers her best teacher the most — her grandmother. Her grandmother divided herself in Florence, Cape Cod, and Tepoztlan, so she had to take advantage whenever she was in town. Although she didn’t see her that often, Gabriela Cámara quickly became good in the kitchen with the help of her mother’s mother. In no time, her and her brother were hosting dinner parties, serving simple things like chilaquiles and lasagna. 

Her upbringing has allowed Cámara to perceive things differently. Since her mother grew up in Philadelphia, she was taught to speak English from a young age and can speak it fluently and as fast as she does with Spanish. So, she has been able to first-hand experience the disharmony between Mexico and the United States, including the strain on tariffs that are now trying to be imposed on some of these countries’ most common staples. The tension on food politics has reached and Cámara has been keeping a close watch on it. 

This is particularly true in recent times. As you may have been witnessing, Mexico has been unjustly scrutinized by its northern neighbor in the past few years. We have been exposed to nonsensical narratives that have tried to blur the perspective people may have on Mexico. However, Mexico is much more than that, as many of us are aware. It’s cuisine, for instance, is one of the best factors of the Mexican culture. With its delicate flavors and flamboyant colors, Mexico’s foods is short of greatness. This is something that is exquisitely flaunted by super-chef Gabriela Cámara. She has been able to take common flavors of Mexico and exemplified their richness to caress the palette of anyone willing to taste her creations. 

About 20 years ago, Cámara decided to open her first restaurant without having ever had attended cooking school or without any experience in running a restaurant. All she knew was that her passion needed a home base and that’s how Contramar was born. She wanted a restaurant that embodied the feeling she felt as a young girl when she’d be eating in restaurants that breezily sat on the Pacific Coast. As you’ll have it, she was able to accomplish this and more. Contramar, located in Mexico City, has encapsulated the beach-like style while creating a space that exudes power. On most days you’ll get top names, from the city’s mayor to telenovela stars. This was beyond Chef’s Cámara’s expectations, but this is what happens when you put in the hard work. Contramar uses simple and refined techniques to invoke the greatest pleasures for those who visit it. Contramar was eventually accompanied by more of Cámara’s masterpieces — her San Francisco restaurant, Cala and The Union Square Cafe in Mexico City. And now, she plans to open up a new restaurant named Onda in Santa Monica. She will be doing so with Jessica Koslow of Sqirl, who shares similar views in the kitchen to hers. The restaurant is set to launch sometime in summer. One thing is for sure —  all these restaurants will maintain her love for a well-crafted cuisine and progressiveness. 

As a matter of fact, Cámara’s progressive views are something that also make her stand out in the industry. 

Gabriela Cámara Cookbook Belatina
Photo Credit IG @calasf

Cámara’s California restaurant, Cala, is known to hire people who are trying to start anew after being previously incarcerated. In order to achieve this, she works closely with government programs that support prisoners preparing to return to the world as civilians once more. This was a conscious decision on behalf of Cámara’s altruism. Caring for people is something Cámara has stated she loves doing. Her altruistic behavior with her employees even go beyond the kitchen.  Whether they’re battling addiction or anything else, she’s there without question to selflessly help them. Her dedication to her employees doesn’t stop there. Besides making a point to create a safe place for previously incarcerated individuals, she also provides healthcare for them. She is among one of the few chefs who add an extra service charge to restaurant bills to cover health benefits for her employees. Cámara feels so strongly about this that she’s even told Vogue: “if you can’t pay a decent wage to everyone who works at your restaurant, then you shouldn’t be feeding rich people.” Her commitment to do the right thing has led her to want to be Human Rights Watch, but for Mexican food. I think she’s right on track. 

Well, so much so that she was just named to a new Council of Cultural Diplomacy by the Mexican government. This council comprises of people who bring global honor to the Mexican culture. The group includes various notable people that are artists, dancers, architects, and more. She even shares this recognition with  Silvia Giorguli Saucedo — a sociologist and the first woman president of the Colegio de Mexico.

It seems to be like her triumphs are nonstop because there’s more. And well-deserved at that. 

Not too long ago, Gael Garcia Bernal produced a documentary that was inspired by Contramar and Cala. Being that Cámara’s restaurants have obtained international recognition, he wanted to show the world more of Cámara’s achievements — both inside the kitchen and outside of it. You can now watch this short documentary, A Tale of Two Kitchens, in Netflix

As if that wasn’t enough, Gabriela Cámara also recently launched her new book, which wears the title of Recipes and Convictions. Some may think that’s a loaded title, but Ms. Cámara has proven to be someone who can evidently handle the heat. If anything, the book’s title epitomizes the type of woman Gabriela Cámara is. She has a voice and she isn’t afraid to use it. In order to make more of a statement, Cámara decided to publish the book in English first. Since the culinary world mainly communicates in English now, Ms. Cámara didn’t want to miss a chance to represent modern Mexico’s cuisine

Recipes and Convictions confirms that Cámara is here to continue putting what matters on the map. 

This is a book that has been presented to us to shine light on everything that has to do with real-world cooking. She basically tried to remove the complexities of cooking and simplified it for the everyday person in the kitchen. Although the main theme of the book is based on Mexican tradition, Cámara doesn’t necessarily put the weight of the word “authentic” on it. Instead, it’s a book on the flexibility of the Mexican cuisine, which includes mini-essays about perspective on different types of seafood, explanations on why certain foods are so significant in the kitchen, and what a taco is to her. In other words, this book is a personal conversation with Cámara through her food guidance. 

Gabriela Cámara Cookbook Belatina

Even though Cámara has had a lot of success in the culinary world as of late, she doesn’t completely consider herself a chef. From what she has shown the world, she is a tireless entrepreneur, an impassioned author, an activist, and soon, she’ll be advising Mexico’s president.

Seriously, what can’t Gabriela Cámara do?

Cámara has never been one to be too shy to dabble in politics. In fact, she’s previously made use of her political connections to help those in need around her. Cámara and her family have been lifelong friends with Mexico’s president, so he understands her values as much as she understands his. She rooted when her friend was running for the third time and was excited when she learned of his victory last July. This is why it makes absolute sense that Mexico’s president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador personally asked Cámara to work for him. It makes even more sense that he asked her to be his food advisor, considering how well-versed Cámara is in this subject.

But this isn’t the first role Mexico’s president offered her. Prior to being offered the food advisement role, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador asked Cámara to oversee the tourism board, which she accepted. 

While Cámara moderated the board, she started learning about everything that had to do with Mexico’s hotels, resorts, museums, restaurants, galleries, and other tourist destinations. There were over 20 international offices taking care of these destinations, yet the Consejo de Promoción Turistica de Mexico continued incessantly spending hundreds of millions of dollars annually (paid by the taxes of foreign tourists) to promote these tourist destinations. Cámara concluded that this had become too wasteful and shut it down completely. The money that was being misspent for the Consejo de Promoción Turística de México was then reappropriated to the Tren Maya. Unfortunately, that decision wasn’t favored by many. People were worried that without an official support for tourism, Mexico could be losing money and visibility in terms of tourism. Despite all of these concerns, she remained grounded to her decision. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also backed her in her decision after reports stated that the Consejo de Promoción Turística de Mexico had fraudulent ties to the money acquired from the foreign tourists. 

Gabriela Cámara BElatina
Photo Credit Ana Lorenzana/FoodandWine.com

Having gone through a slight bump in the road didn’t stop Cámara from moving forward in politics. She understands that not everyone is going to be happy with all decisions in life, but she knows that she always tries her best to help as many people as she can.

Ultimately, Cámara chose to take on the role as Mexico’s president food advisor. This summer she is moving back to Mexico City with her son to pursue her new political role. Cámara said she couldn’t pass up the offer, especially when there’s a president who cares this much about food. She knows how great of an opportunity this is for her and for Mexico.

Her businesses and projects will not be affected by this. Unsurprisingly, Cámara has covered all her bases and made sure to take care of everything before accepting her new role. 

Gabriela Cámara is a multifaceted woman who can be used as evidence that you can do many things and excel at them. She allowed her passion pave the way and fortunately had success, which is incredibly inspirational. Something tells me this is not the last time we hear of her.