Beatriz Gonzalez has all but lived in kitchens since she was 7 years old. The first was her parents’ kitchen on the paradise island of Cozumel off the eastern coast of Mexico, where, after leaving the armed forces, her father gave up his previous life to open a top-flight restaurant. Beatriz also threw herself into the new venture. But everything changed when she was 17 and her father sent her to France to study at the Institut Paul Bocuse. She fell in love not only with French cuisine, but also with Matthieu Marcant, who went on to become her husband. He is also her business associate in the two restaurants she now runs in Paris, Neva Cuisine and Coretta. Having trained under Pierre Orsi in Lyon, Alain Senderens at Lucas Carton and Frédéric Robert at La Grande Cascade, Beatriz favours a gourmet bistro style of cooking. Between services, she often snacks on cheese – a piece of Salers, or Comté. A true Mexican, fashioned by France.
My parents’ restaurant in Mexico was on two floors, and when you went upstairs, you had to go past the kitchen. I can still see the enormous extractor hood in there, and smell all those delicious smells – meat and fish, the spicy tomato sauce being stirred in huge pots, ready to be poured over fish cooked in banana leaves, and the fried tortillas we call tostadas.
My father was astonished. Why would I want to have the same job as they did, when I never used to see them and I’d have to come down to the restaurant to spend time with them? But he knew I had made up my mind, and that I could be stubborn! Then one day he asked me if I still wanted to be a cook, because apparently a famous chef had opened a cookery school in Lyon – one of the best, he said. He thought that I would come back and take over their restaurant, but I fell in love with France. My father has always supported me in everything, and encouraged me to open my own restaurant when I would have just carried on working for the big names.
In Mexico we have big families, so to be all alone at school, not speaking the language, was very tough. But even in my first placements I realised that when I was told to ‘do this, fetch that,’ I had to do it. I had to learn and understand, or they would simply replace me.
It’s a blend of my background and all the flavours I’ve encountered in my life so far. People who know me all know my food has a bit of a kick to it. They’re not your everyday flavours, but they’re very precisely structured.
People do eat cheese, but it isn’t as tasty as the French product. We have some fairly neutral cheeses, used mainly for garnish or melted; for instance in quesadillas, the Mexican savoury snack of choice.
When Sweet Cheese called me, I was thrilled because I love challenges, but it also gave me the chance to work as part of a team. Without a good team behind them, a chef is nothing. We all chipped in, but the pun was my husband’s idea. As a child, my two favourite desserts were crème caramel and rice pudding – although in Mexico we don’t make it with cinnamon like in France, and we add candied fruit or citrus. Mathieu’s play on words gave us the idea of replacing the milk and sugar with Brie. I like all French cheese, but I really love the smooth creaminess of Brie. It coats the rice as it cooks, giving it a lovely sheen. I could have served it in a bowl, just to admire its glossy appearance; but I thought I’d refresh it with apple in three different textures – raw, dried and jellied. Any Mexican would eat this without a second thought!
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