A French cookbook’s secret weapon: its Mexican test kitchen

James Oseland, a New York-based food writer and chef, is not the only one who has won awards for his work. But the Mexican chefs he works with are the secret to his latest cookbook about French cooking.

Two of these cooks, María Ester Godínez Guzman and Brenda Yafté Nieto Sánchez, are what make his home-based test kitchen here everything he could ever hope for. Despite neither woman having ever considered a career in testing exotic recipes, they have become an indispensable source of Oseland.

Born and raised in Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl (more commonly referred to as Ciudad Neza), a working-class suburb of greater Mexico City located in México state, Godínez grew up around food, helping her mother and other family members as they cooked at home and in small, family-run restaurants called fondas.

She cannot say she ever enjoyed cooking until she was a grownup and had her own kitchen. Her passion for cooking inspired her to start her own fonda and make the delicious traditional dishes and street food she is famous for.

Oseland was a friend she was working for. Her deep involvement in what Godínez calls “normal Mexican cooking”The writer was impressed and invited her to collaborate.

Brenda Nieto and James Oseland discuss the recipe.

Nieto is from another part of greater Mexico City, Ciudad Satélite, also in México state. She too began cooking in her own home kitchen. But after graduating highschool, she went to culinary school. She realized that, despite her love for food, she does not like the Mexican restaurant industry, with its long hours, low pay, and low wages.

Nieto’s meeting with Oseland was also by chance, through her sister, who manages a restaurant that he visited. Nieto impressed him not only with her formal culinary experience, but also with her impeccable English.

For Oseland’s previous Mexico City cookbook, both women worked as expert consultants, using their native knowledge to evaluate and test the recipes that James collected. They tried to make them more understandable to non-Mexicans, and corrected any errors. “errors”Contributing cooks may have been able to sneak into the recipe to make sure that no one else can prepare the dishes exactly the same way they do.

They were however newbies for the Paris book. Godínez had “zero”Experience and knowledge in French cuisine. Nieto completed a year and a quarter of French cooking school training, but admitted that it was mainly basic building blocks.

When she received Oseland’s initial list of recipes to test, she did not recognize more than half of them.

On that first day of French cooking, both women were nervous and excited, discovering that nearly everything they needed was indeed available in Mexico City’s historic center.

James Oseland in MexicoEster Godinez collaborating with James Oseland at Oseland’s Mexico City apartment kitchen. Leigh Thelmadatter

Their first attempts did not go as planned. Mexican cuisine is quite delicious. “loose,”Oseland said that measurements and temperatures are typically done by eye or by hand.

French food, on other hand, is delicious. “… is quite square,”Nieto noted that French cuisine is not allowed to accept shortcuts in Mexican cooking.

However, by the time I arrived at Oseland’s’ apartment for the interview, both women had mastered various dishes, including quiche, which I discovered I do like when done properly.

Both women find French cuisine challenging but rewarding. Leg of lamb with rosemary was a favorite for both women. Nieto said that “cookies have captured my heart.”

They also stated that they were astonished to have learned so much, which only has served to fuel their desire to learn more. For Godínez,  the chance to taste such food has been special as she does not expect to ever have a chance to visit Europe.

With over three years together, the trio have a camaraderie that no corporate test kitchen staff could ever hope to achieve: they are truly colleagues in an informal atmosphere that is unlike any that Oseland, Godínez or Nieto have ever experienced.

World Food Paris cookbookJames Oseland’s latest cookbook, World Food Paris, was published this month by Penguin Random House.

Oseland gives direction, but not the formal “do exactly as you are told”Mexican bosses exhibit a positive attitude in many workplaces. The environment is about interactions, asking questions and offering suggestions — real collaboration.

The partnership also encourages nonculinary skills. Nieto is now involved in both writing and editing the book. She discovered a passion for research. All will continue to work together, not just on Oseland’s next book in the series but on other projects.

Godínez’s and Nieto’s families are impressed with the work they do, with Godínez’s family ribbing her about being “too sophisticated” to live in Ciudad Neza now.

However, both women say that their work with Oseland’s foreign cuisine does not translate into making the non-Mexican dishes at home. Many families here are simply not interested in food they didn’t grow up with.

This is one contradictory truth about Mexican food: You can find cuisine from all over the world in Mexico City, but it is not like New York or London. Only certain people are interested in trying new foods.

Nieto has opened her mind to what she has learnt. a small baking business in Ciudad SatéliteThat is delivery.

Oseland says that working with Godínez and Nieto has been a sheer joy, that the differences among the three of them are not minuses but pluses. He said that each person brings a different perspective.

Which is immeasurably helpful when you’re not in France but you have to cook a French dish over 15 times to get it right.

Leigh Thelmadatter came to Mexico 18 years ago, and fell in love the land and culture, especially the handcrafts and art. She is the author Mexican Cartonería: Paper, Paste and Fiesta (Schiffer 2019). Her culture column appears regularly on Mexico News Daily.


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