While we were having dinner at home the other night, our causal dinner time conversation moved on to the articles (reviews) I often write about Branding, Logo and Marketing strategies in businesses, including fashion designing, hospitality, IT, service and other sectors. I was just talking about the effort, energy and luck that were needed for a businessman to be successful, cutting me short, my elder daughter dropped a clanger by asking me why I usually wrote more articles about male entrepreneurs than about female ones. All three of us, me, my wife, and my younger daughter, turned our heads to look and her.
Her smile was as innocent as her question, but my problem was to explain the difference without having to offend the ladies (three of them against one). True, the gender discrimination has been there all along and though I’m not directly responsible for that phenomenon, I, like many of the menfolk, feel a sort of guilt whenever faced with such questions. I respect women in general, and love and respect my wife and my daughters in particular, and give as much freedom as is good for my two daughters. There has never been any dogmatic traditional edict imposed on anyone in our home. Everyone has a right to express their opinions freely, as long as the expression is decent, relevant and logical. There have been several occasions in our causal discussions when my wife and my elder daughter advise me as to how and why something has to be done in a different way and point out flaws in my ideas.
So, now I was in a fix as to how to put forward the intricacies involved in this issue delicately and sensibly so that the ladies didn’t get me wrong. So, I took up the prime reasons for women being tied to their homes: having babies, looking after babies and not being so strong as men in dealing with physical and mental stress that any business would generate. There was silence for a couple of minutes. I was looking down at my plate bending my head as if I were observing a two-minute silence at a funeral. My wife was careful not say anything that might push me deeper into the quagmire I was in (though she might have enjoyed the fix I was in… LOL…).
And both my daughters started talking at once, quoting several examples: my little one’s female teachers were all mothers with babies as young as one or two years old; my older one had seen many career women raising a large family while working in defence and police agencies, naming some of the prominent female business tycoons, politicians and social activists, and why even their mother had been doing more work at home than I was doing at my office. Panic struck me. I was frantically searching my mind to find something that would pull me out of this sandpit, even a strand of grass!
Then the older one, as if out of pity for me, eased the tense situation by telling us about a female restaurant owner in Mexico City who showed the world what miracles a weakling of a woman could do in restaurant business about whom, she said, she had learned in a group discussion at school recently. I was relieved — it was like a cool gush of air you were desperate for when you were almost chocking to death. I tried to affect some ‘genuine’ interest in this wonderful restaurant lady. But my daughter wouldn’t take it that easily but advised me (which sounded like an order) to do a write-up on her so that not only me but also men like me would know what the power of women was. I said I would.
And with that she left the table, taking her empty plate with her to keep it in the kitchen sink (my little angel grown into a responsible adult, I wondered). My wife and the little one collected the empty plates, cleared the table and went into the sitting-room. All the while I was left alone wondering ‘wasn’t it true that women were fewer in the best positions in the society although they were equally talented, at least mentally, philosophically and psychologically’.
So, I started doing some research on this wonderful lady and, believe me, she was really wonderful. Let me give you the details in brief:
Elena Reygadas, a Mexican from Mexico City, went to New York after completing her English Literature degree at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. There she needed some extra bucks to see her through the culinary course at French Culinary Institute and through a friend, she found a job at a restaurant where, she later confessed, she learned about cooking more than she did in her one year course at the university. Later when her husband got a scholarship in one of London universities, she sailed across the ocean to London (one of the reasons why women cannot establish their own careers: to follow their husbands who follow their careers?) and had done different jobs in several restaurants before she found a position, first in Fino, a Spanish restaurant under a ‘female’ chef, Nieves Barragan Mohacho, and then in Locanda Locatelli restaurant run by Chef Giorgio Locatelli where she remained for five years, learning the actual art of cooking classic Italian cuisine.
(This Elena is not to be confused with Elena of Arzak, a Spanish restaurant in Spain, and the daughter of Juan Mari Arzak, the world class multi-award-winning chef, who won the World’s Best Female Chef 2012.)
When her first baby girl was born, things became increasingly difficult for her. As a lactating mother, she had to feed the baby several times, day and night; consequently, keeping to her work schedule and looking after her baby girl seemed too much for her and London city was too expensive for them to employ a maid to look after the baby. So, she decided to go back to Mexico City where, she thought, she could have a nanny to look after her baby so that she could concentrate more on her profession. (The bane of women’s lives: having babies and having to feed them & clean them… day and night!)
With that hope and determination, she flew back to Mexico City and started to do pop-up dinners in an old house twice a week for about 30 diners. Eventually, as the food was good and Elena’s way of organising the dinners was as sweet as her looks, the number of diners increased to 50 and so was the frequency to three dinners a week. Meanwhile, she had the second baby and she, in her own words, became ‘super-skinny’, looking after her two girls (breast-feeding one) and scheduling her dinners. However, she stated in one of her interviews that she had had that inertia and she had not wanted to stop.
As there was a huge rush for her pop-up dinners, in 2010 she thought of opening a restaurant in the real sense and chose an old three-story building in Mexico City’s high-end Roma district and named it Rosetta, ‘Little Rose’. Exterior and interior decoration was done by her architect husband.
Here, ‘in the real sense’ means “Branding” her restaurant business: setting it up in the right location, giving the right name, doing the right decoration, making the right publicity, allotting the right funding and making the right quality product, which is food in this case.
This is branding and it is so successful in Elena’s case that within a short time:
Rosetta became “one of the essential dining experiences in Mexico City”
Elena Reygadas became “understated Queen of Mexico’s restaurant scene”.
Her favorite dishes include her handmade pasta, gnocchi-like ‘malfatti’, a kind of filled pasta dumpling, and ‘orecchiette’, a kind of home-made pasta. And though her recipes are of Italian and French, she adds a dash of Mexican flavor by using local ingredients combined with Mexican traditional methods of cooking.
Nicholas Gilman, in one of his article in 2012, called Elena Reygadas a “cunning chef” affectionately in appreciation of her culinary skills in using ingredients available in Mexican countryside. He said her dishes are ‘global but very local’.
Within 4 years, Elena won the coveted award The Veuve Clicquot Latin America’s Best Female Chef of the year 2014.
This is a fitting award for a brave and talented woman chef because it not only declared how talented a cook she was but also it is named after Madame Clicquot, a woman from the past worth knowing about.
Born Ponsardin, Veuve Clicquot was a French businesswoman who managed her husband Clicquot’s wine business after his death when she was only 27 some 200 years ago. She was called “Grand Dame of Champagne”. (It is said that there is the brand and company of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin doing freaking business to this day.)
The brand image of a business and power of women have been with us and stay forever.
While announcing this award winner, Aymric Sancerre, Veuve Clicquot’s Director of international Communications, showered Elena with praises by saying that her career was testament to this (the power of women) and she was a true ambassador of these values in gastronomy, and that he was proud that their Maison and rich heritage were associated with such a talented personality as Elena Reygadas.
Elena proved that she was an entrepreneur no less than any male entrepreneur when she saw that people stopped eating more bread not because they were bad but because the bread was bad. Therefore, to make bread that tasted much like the bread in the past, she opened an in-house bakery at Rosetta, and when the rush for the bread grew more than the rush for the tables at the restaurant, she separated the bakery and moved it to a nearby location, naming it Panaderia Rosetta, Rosetta Bakery, which now supplies bread not only to the locals and her restaurant but also to the other up-scale restaurants across the city, with the tag-line “You can bring together many people in a bakery, much more than in a restaurant.”
Elena believes that it’s very important how you feel after you eat; not just while you’re eating, referring to the numerous allergies diners develop after eating certain foods at certain eateries. At Rosetta there is no ‘tasting’ menu but just a six-course menu, a la carte, because she is not fond of long menus that confuse diners. She wants her guests to know, eat and remember what they eat, and go back to her to know, eat and remember all over again.
Reygadas has been a part of ‘Colectivo Mexicano de Cocina’, Mexican Cuisine Collective, an organisation of a group of talented chefs that support each other and share suppliers and employees to work together at festivals.
Wishing Elena Ryegadas, the Woman of Substance, a more successful future, I retired to bed, thinking of my tomorrow’s work. After all, men do work, you know, my baby!