Monday, October 23, 2006

Mexican Spitfire Spits Tacks

As much as we understand the compunction or need for reality television to reduce contestants to a bite-size, easily digestible appellation for the ease of television viewers, it does bother us that the shorthand is often lazy and stereotypical and sometimes borders on the racist or offensive (e.g., Frankie the Bull).
For example, it irks us that the Bravo bio describes Carlos as "a handsome and zealous Cuban with a flair for cooking and a passion for life," and Elia herself as a "Latin firecracker."
A "positive" stereotype is not always a blessing, and can be just as limiting as a negative stereotype. God help the Latin who doesn't go in for passion or the gay who can't decorate. But lest we get too preachy, let's talk about Elia, who isn't exactly Lupe "Mexican Spitfire" Velez.
Her full name is Elia Aboumrad Harfuch, and, like Salma Hayek and Shakira, she is of Middle Eastern heritage. (There is a large and prosperous Lebanese community in Mexico, where they made an important contribution to the country's cuisine by turning the shawarma into the emblematic Mexico City dish, the perfect late-night on-the-run treat, tacos al pastor).

Elia's parents appear frequently in the society pages in Mexico, throwing Arab-themed dinners in their mansion in Pedregal de San Angel, the Bel Air of Mexico City, appearing at French Embassy shindigs, theater openings, and society weddings. This isn't exactly someone who learnt cooking at her family's taquería.
As she told Mexican daily El Universal last year, "Everything began three years ago when I left home to go study in Paris. Since I've always liked cooking, I planned to take a six-month course at Lenôtre, a school that, among other things, has the greatest number of Meilleurs Ouvriers de France winners (the highest title a French chef achieve)." She didn't know much about gastronomy, and so enrolled in a special course for people starting from scratch. She went on to take courses in pastry-making, ice cream-making, ice and sugar sculpture, and chocolate-making. She then worked for Joël Robuchon in Paris.
The article was published two weeks before Elia was to travel to Las Vegas to become the first woman, and only Mexican, to occupy the post of sous-chef at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, a matter of considerable pride. And now she works for Alain Ducasse at the Hotel at the Mandalay Bay resort. Not bad for a society girl from San Angel. Let's see Paris Hilton make a demiglace. Anyway, Elia, we still wish you had used tequila or rum for the flambé challenge, but we forgive you and wish you luck with the rest of the season.

1 comment:

Willa Frank said...

oh, you make me wish i were cable-ready. wait, i am -- it's just my budget which ain't anymore! :-(