With more than three decades of devotion to Mexican cuisine, Margarita Carrillo Arronte could be the country’s quintessential culinary ambassador.
A chef, teacher, restaurateur and author, the long-admired Arronte wrote The New York Times-bestselling “Mexico: The Cookbook.” Filled with 700 pages of recipes from around the country, the hot pink-covered tome is a virtual encyclopedia on the topic and a Publisher’s Weekly Top Ten Cookbook of 2014. She will be featured this weekend at the Tucson Festival of Books.
“This book is the result of many years of working in the kitchen, traveling almost all over Mexico and gathering recipes from family, friends, colleagues and traditional cooks,” Arronte said.
Born in Mexico, Arronte has spent 30 years researching, studying, teaching and cooking Mexican cuisine. She has served as the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture’s chef and has organized Mexican food festivals and gala dinners across North America, Europe and Asia. She also notably worked with a group of historians and chefs in a long but ultimately successful campaign to get Mexican cuisine designated as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
In addition to teaching at Cucul Cultura Culinaria A.C. and the National University of Mexico, Arronte is a leader of the Slow Food movement in Baja and runs the restaurants Don Emiliano in San José del Cabo and Casa Mexico in Mexico City.
“Mexico: The Cookbook,” beautifully illustrated with 200 full-color photos, features dishes as diverse as the country itself, from its mountainous regions to its lush shores. The book includes recipes like classic salsa ranchera, Acapulco-style ceviche and pastel tres leches among its vast pages. It is organized into sections: snacks and street food, starters and salads, eggs, soups, fish and seafood, meat, vegetables, sauces, rice and beans, breads and pastries, and drinks and desserts. Each recipe is accented with notes on its origins, ingredients and techniques.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
Very early in my life, when I was just married, my husband encouraged me a lot to follow my dreams.
What misconceptions exist about Mexican food?
That Mexican food is fattening, unbalanced and too spicy. Like frying, that’s not rooted in tradition correct? Correct, frying is not a traditional Mexican cooking technique and something very important is that traditional Mexican food is made from scratch. It is healthy, natural food.
Why is Mexican food all about women?
In Mexico and most Latin American countries, in traditional families, there is disguised matriarchy and cooking you learn at home with mothers, grandmothers, aunts, nannies. But of course there are some very outstanding exceptions of male chefs cooking traditional food.
Is there one dish you never tire of?
My mother’s food. She was a real artist in the kitchen and she loved to pamper her family with good food — the yellow rice, the garlic soup, everything she made.
All kinds of chilies.
What do you think is the future of Mexican food?
I think that if we all look at it with respect for the ingredients and techniques, and young chefs research and study it seriously until they master it, they can make it modern, contemporary and very interesting