A Chef Plunges Into Mexican Politics

Specifically, Contramar captures the family table on a beach vacation: a large group under a leafy palapa, with freshly caught fish, an outdoor grill and a siesta to look forward to. Even a business lunch in Mexico can easily last two hours; at Contramar, stragglers are still being shooed out at 7 p.m.

The food is usually described by what it is not — fussy, high-end, modernist, unique — rather than what it is, which is simple but refined, and perfectly designed for pleasure. Like Alice Waters, Ms. Cámara is not a culinary innovator, but a curator. She has bridged Mexican tradition and modern taste with such a clearly articulated vision that she is beginning to achieve global stature representing Mexico, alongside chefs like Mr. Olvera, Daniela Soto-Innes and Elena Reygadas.

Women chefs have long dominated the restaurant scene in Mexico, Mr. Olvera said, unlike in the United States. “I found it very strange when I came back,” said Mr. Olvera, who attended the Culinary Institute of America and worked in fine-dining kitchens in New York in the 1990s. “As a male chef, suddenly I was the one who stuck out.”

Mexico’s venerable French, Spanish and Italian restaurant kitchens are mostly headed by men. But native culinary traditions have always been passed on by women, mostly in home kitchens. As Mexican cuisine becomes more celebrated everywhere, the nation’s female chefs have a chance to shine.

Ms. Nieves, who worked as a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton and at Jose Cuervo for a decade before starting her tequila company, said Ms. Cámara, like herself, represents a new generation of Mexican women who are educated, multilingual, ambitious and moving into leadership roles in high-stakes businesses like hospitality and tourism.

“From outside the window, it might appear that many women are still in traditional roles,” she said. “But there is a lot of power in a Mexican kitchen.”

Recipes: Conchas (Mexican Morning Buns) | Tacos al Pastor

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