Pilar Cabrera’s world had changed – how she taught her cooking classes, how she ran her restaurant, Pitcairn Email List her vision of her gastronomic future – and she had only been back from her month-long visit to Toronto for 10 days. But outside influences have always played an integral part in the history of Oaxaca’s rich culinary heritage, dating back at least five centuries to the melding of native Zapotec traditions with the import of Old World ingredients during the Spanish Conquest.
In a similar fashion, throughout the course of Chef Pilar’s sojourn to Southern Ontario, she impacted the way many Canadians view Mexican cuisine – now as more than tacos and enchiladas. And at the same time Pilar provided those who already had a palate for pozole, pescado Istmeño and pay de requesón with Oaxacan chocolate, with fulfillment of yearnings they had secretly held since their last visit to Oaxaca.
Pilar’s Canadian excursion provides an example of how Oaxacans can make their mark upon other countries, with no financial support from their own state government. But more importantly, it is yet another illustration of the positive impact which can result from one native woman’s willingness to take a risk, and with the encouragement of family and friends to move outside of her comfort zone. In the case of Pilar there was more: the aid of receptive Toronto restaurants and culinary academies, an enthusiastic public including food experts and aficionados of diverse gastronomic traditions, a keen media, and the unwavering assistance of a food researcher, writer and consultant.
It all began during the winter of 2008 / 09, in Oaxaca, with the chance meeting of Torontonian Mary Luz Mejia, partner with husband Mario in Sizzling Communications, and this writer, a Oaxacan resident and former Torontonian – yours truly lamenting how all too often US and Canadian media gravitate towards showcasing all that is American, even when it comes to promoting aspects of foreign cultures – cooking and cuisine a case in point.
“Look at Pilar Cabrera,” I exclaimed, “a native Zapotec chef who learned to cook from her mother and grandmother, BBBORG and then supplemented that knowledge with a university degree in food sciences and nutrition. Can you find a better pedrigree, or ambassador of Oaxacan gastronomy? And she has a restaurant and a cooking school to boot. She even mentors the likes of Mexican food guru Rick Bayless, an American who brings his staff to Oaxaca on almost an annual basis to learn from Pilar. And here you are, in Oaxaca to film still a different American chef, because according to your production company, that’s what Canadian viewers want.