|To continue with my series of interviews with locals in order to better understand the locations I'm visiting, I met with Margret. She is a Canadian from Toronto now living in San Miguel de Allende for the better part of the last four years. As you'll see, she has a work that provides a useful insight into the society of San Miguel. |
She first came to San Miguel in October
2009 to take a break in her life after her only daughter began her
university. She has a friend who had an apartment in here so she
came over for a break. At first, she didn't speak Spanish but she
has learned a lot since. After a few months she found a job through
contacts. At the beginning, she was doing the shuttle, 3 months in
Canada, 3 months in San Miguel, usually staying a different apartment
each time. Now, she is in San Miguel most of the time but does return
to Toronto on occasions to visit family and friends.
Margret is a private chef. Her clients
are mostly retired Americans (usually single women), who don't like
to cook or don't want to, having health issues (like heart problems,
blood pressure issues, diabetes, etc) or food allergies. She usually
gets her new clients by referrals from her existing ones but she also
announces now and then on an Internet forum for expats in San Miguel.
She begins by meeting with them to understand their needs. They
discuss about the health problems they have, the changes they need to
do in their diets, limitations and things they should improve,
portions size, type of meals they like and don't like, the
ingredients she should avoid, etc.
After that, Margret builds a menu to
suit the needs of each client. She doesn't build a written menu or
offer them a list to choose from, she cooks what will match their
needs and what she thinks will please them. Although her clients are
usually gringos, she does try to make them dishes with a local
flavour now and then, to let them taste something Mexican other than
the tacos stands. Some clients only require her to prepare a few
meals a week because they're eating out a lot due to social
activities. Some clients need her services only every other week.
Some will simply freeze the dishes for later use, while others will
not. She can cook at her home and then deliver the dishes to the
client (or sometimes they come to pick them up) or she can go cook in
the client's house.
She always has to have multiple options
because she can leave to go to a client's home to cook meal X, but on
the way there she couldn't find one of the key ingredients at the
market... so she has to opt for a plan B and go for another recipe.
That kind of uncertainty contributes to not having a routine, and she
loves that: everyday is different, just as every client is.
She tries to nurture every client she
has, cooking as if they were her children, taking care of the details
so they don't bother and just enjoy their meal. She still has her
very first client from almost four years ago. She also became
friends with many of her clients outside the kitchen.
What kept Margret coming back over and
over in Mexico is the food, she always loves to learn more about
ingredients and typical dishes. She loves San Miguel because of the
size of the city (about 140 000 people), its walkability (despite the
hills), the cobblestones streets, the sounds of the city, the great
weather and of course the Mexican people.
What she doesn't like about San Miguel
is the huge amount of 'gringos'. In San Miguel, 'gringos' are
typically Americans coming here to reproduce their American way of
living but at Mexican costs, usually without integrating or speaking
Spanish. In the rest of Mexico, a 'gringo' usually refers to any
Caucasian coming from the 'first-world' (USA, Canada, Europe,
Australia, etc). Margret is trying to bridge the gap one meal at a
time, through her current work but also through various projects
she's working on.
She also found it hard to learn
Spanish. Ironically, San Miguel is packed with Spanish schools for
foreigners, but the city itself is not a good place to practice. The
economy is now so dependant of the Americans living here that they
will try to do anything to please their customers... including
speaking the little English they know when they see the client is
stumbling a bit, preventing most practice in real life for those