A TALE OF TWO KITCHENS

By Cuisine2 Minutes
April 9, 2021By Cuisine

Don’t expect ego-driven deep musings on the philosophy of cooking, or an exposé of drug-raddled kitchens, tantrums and broken lives. In fact, even food is not the focus of this short doco. The film zooms in on two restaurants, Contramar in Mexico City and Cala in San Francisco, both owned and operated by Gabriela Cámara. In a refreshing change from many culinary documentaries, chef Cámara appears only fleetingly, giving the frames to those who mop the floors, mix the drinks and chop the veges. Contramar, operating since 1998, has a head start on the much younger Cala, with many staff having worked there for decades: they consider the restaurant to be a second home and their colleagues to be family. Indeed, young Leonardo Flores grew up hearing constantly about the restaurant from his father Ulises, an assistant manager, and now works proudly alongside him at Contramar. Pride in the place and in their role beam out of every shot. Skipping to Cala, the film explores the irony of the US infatuation with Mexican food and the reality of the restaurant industry relying heavily on Latino workers, while having a fraught relationship with their southern neighbours and being less than welcoming to migrants. Bartenders Orlando Castillo and Johnny Robles talk of the difficulty of trying to fit in, both as Mexican-Americans and as recently released prisoners whose time at Cala has given them not just a job but a chance to rebuild their lives and their self respect, opportunities hard to come by in other businesses. But politics is not centre stage: those roles go to the folk who quietly and with dignity demonstrate how people who are not high-profile genius chefs find personal and professional fulfillment in the hospitality industry. TRACY WHITMEY