This story was originally published in Spanish on MUNCHIES MX.
Contrary to the ideas spread by Donald Trump during his presidential campaign, when Mexico sends people over to the United States, it actually sends its very best. At least that’s the case when it comes to gastronomy. It’s not a secret that in most American restaurants there are Mexican hands taking part in the food preparation process, from chopping a humble onion to running a whole kitchen to managing their own establishments.
In fact, Mexican food is an absolute favorite among the gringos and you can find our cuisine all around the country: some esquites with mayo and cheese from a street vendor in Los Angeles, some longaniza tacos and a tepache from a family restaurant in Chicago, sopes playeros with midnight black beans, crema, and ricotta salata at Cala in San Francisco, or some duck emoladas created by Enrique Olvera at his restaurant in New York.
However, all these deportation threats and this new racist wave that’s grown through the republican candidate’s prejudiced rhetoric has created a discouraging and intimidating atmosphere for Mexican restaurateurs. I talked to Mexican cooks and chefs who work in or own restaurants in the US about their thoughts on Trump’s election. Here’s what they said:
Gabriela House, Cala(San Francisco)
In 2015, Gabriela Cámara arrived in San Francisco for family reasons. It was then that she opened Cala, a seafood-centric restaurant. Just like she did in Mexico City with her restaurants Contramar and Meretoro, she implemented a program to help the formerly incarcerated. “The real drama about Trump is that ignorance won—that cheap, corny media tactics won,” the chef tells me. “He’s a guy that decided to run for president to get better ratings on his reality show. That’s the guy that wins the election of the so-called most important country in the world? The world is truly fucked.”
Gaby has quickly gained recognition in the United States. In February of 2016, Cala was named a semifinalist to win the James Beard Award for best new restaurant in the US. “It’s actually not bad for us that Trump is the President-elect. I mean, it’s a disgrace for humanity in general, but not for Mexicans in particular…. The world won’t stop because of it. People are not stupid. They love Mexican food. It’s a good opportunity to do things better, to do things the right way.”
Enrique Olvera, Cosme (New York)
Another place that has given the white tablecloth treatment to Mexican food, and has created a new contemporary cuisine with Mexican flavor in the US, is Enrique Olvera’s Cosme. In fact, last September it was reaffirmed as one of the best restaurants not just in New York, but in the entire country, when Barack and Michelle Obama decided to have dinner there after a day of work at the UN General Assembly.
“Cosme, is not just a Mexican restaurant, but a restaurant that serves the best possible food created by Mexican people, and that to me entails working with the best products. We have a very strong profile because of our roots, but we are also not too strict about it,” the chef tells me in an email. “We always wanted to make Cosme a place where people could feel comfortable and well served, a space created to have a great time and come back once and again. Mexican people are great hosts, and that’s something that shows and that our clients perceive.”
Despite the restaurant’s success, Enrique Olvera resides in Mexico and, as it happens with most Mexicans, he doesn’t like Donald Trump one bit. Not too long ago, after being questioned in an interview on what he would do if Trump decides to visit Cosme, he was quick to answer. “I doubt that he’d ever go, but if he does at the very least, we’d have to tell him to go fuck himself.”
To him the future that Latin and Mexican restaurants are facing with a Trump presidency should be tackled through work. “The effect that he has will depend on our own actions or lack thereof. We need to focus on doing things the best way possible and stop getting overwhelmed with matters that are out of our control.”
Eduardo Garcia , Maximo Bistrot (Mexico City)
If there is anyone that gets the uncertainty that Mexican people in the US are feeling—especially those living there illegally—it is chef Eduardo Garcia. He lived in Atlanta for 27 years and moved back and forth undocumented between both countries.
“Most of them are actually really scared of what could happen with all this,” he tells me over coffee at Maximo Bistro, his restaurant in Colonia Roma, Mexico City. “But what I usually tell them is that this is a great opportunity for our country. I think it’s cool that America will tell us to fuck off, because they control us economically. It’s a great time for us to start creating something here ourselves, to start running our own places and creating businesses that are 100% Mexican, and maybe start trading with different countries.”
Eduardo is certain that his fellow countrymen are an important part of the US economy. Mexicans rule in the US, he tells me with satisfaction. However, he insists in betting on our own internal economy. “If Trump wants to close the border with the Nafta Free Trade, that’s awesome—that is going to open doors for us. Out with Walmart, out with KFC, out with McDonald’s, out with Starbucks and Domino’s. Mexicans living there should come back here and open places like those that I’ve just mentioned. However, we will need the support of our government to achieve that goal.”
Nidal Barakeh , food critic (Miami)
It’s also worthwhile to get the opinion of a Latino that’s not a Mexican. Among those riding the Latin food wave in the US, the work of blogger and food critic Nidal Barake stands out. A year ago he left Caracas, Venezuela and moved to Miami, where he founded Gluttonomy, a digital marketing business that targets the global food industry. For him, as with most Latinos, Trump’s victory was bad news.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty. I can’t deny that there’s an air of discontent and disappointment,” he tells me. “People are waiting to see if his policies will have an effect in the imports industry, for instance, in the case of restaurants that depend on foreign products. Then there’s the labor issue: it’s a well-known fact that there is an important workforce of immigrants in this country.
For this Venezuelan, there is no other way forward than to bet on a strong and vigorous economy as the one in America, which goes beyond one person’s interests even if that person happens to be the president. “I believe that the market has more weight than one person’s personal wishes—and we still have to see if it wasn’t just part of a campaign strategy to win, or if he’s actually going to take his words and turn them into action. I believe he will have to accept, one way or the other, the importance of all these communities.”