Scott Barnett & Associates Blog
Lupita, a Culinary Artist

June 12, 2023
Many years ago, we went to a small city in Mexico by the name of San Miguel de Allende. It's a relatively well-known place and has been what is essentially an enclave for expatriate Americans over the last several decades.

My girlfriend, who is from Argentina, wanted to stay at a boutique hotel called Dos Casas. It was what the name implies- two houses. An architect from Mexico City had bought two homes and connected them, resulting in a small hotel. At that time, there were a few fairly large rooms that overlooked an interior courtyard. It was a typical San Miguel setup.
Since this is not a travel blog, why am I telling you this?
Because it was at Dos Casas that I discovered more about the creation of food than I ever had before or since.
Avoid Burning Yourself in the Kitchen
At the time, Dos Casas was not the destination it has become. It did not have a restaurant per se but instead, a kitchen where they provided their guests with breakfast and (upon special request) lunch or dinner. Early the first morning, I went downstairs to get some coffee from the kitchen to take back to the room. It was there that I met Lupita.

She was a woman in her fifties, her hair tied back in a bun wearing a white kitchen dress. She greeted me neutrally and, since I speak Spanish, we introduced ourselves. I learned that she was the "cook" at Dos Casas and offered me breakfast. I told her I wanted two coffees "para llevar" and she provided them. After taking them to the room where it was still too early for an Argentine, I decided to go back and get something to eat.

Lupita was prepping- cracking eggs, cutting tomatoes and so on. Maybe it was because of the nightmare summer I had spent years before when I stupidly fired my omelette guy for being late too many times- I don't know. But for some reason, I told her I was in the restaurant business and asked her if she needed help. I think she found this quite amusing. Just the same, she went to a drawer and retrieved an apron and handed it to me.

I spent the next hour theoretically helping while she maintained a non-stop commentary on what she was doing, how Mexico had invented cooking and why Americanos should try to avoid cutting or burning themselves in a kitchen. Well, at least she hadn't said gringos...
No Exaggeration: the Best Thing I Ever Ate
Lupita was preparing a green liquid in a large saucepan and I asked what it was. It turned out to be the start of a batch of jalapeno marmalade. It was not the first time I had seen a peppered jelly but she was doing some very different things with this. She asked me if I wanted to try it. I politely said yes and she went to her refrigerator and pulled some out. I knew she was baking bread because I had seen her tins but she gave me a big piece of what I learned was yesterday's bread- yes, she baked daily.

I spread it on the bread and took a bite. And then another. Within a couple of minutes, I had eaten half the loaf and a fair portion of the marmalade. We all have heard or said, "This is the best thing I have ever eaten in my life." Well, that was the best thing I had ever eaten in my life.

She then started cutting up some jicama into long slices and mixed in some lime juice (they call it limon) and jalapeno and a couple of other things and gave that to me. It was outstanding. Like all great cooks, Lupita instinctively knew simpler is better.

We made eye contact for a moment with her looking at me with this understanding and confident look and I realized...
"She's good.
She is an artist with food and she knows it."
A Rare Gift
There were a lot of excellent restaurants in San Miguel in those days and there still are. But we never saw them that trip because I hired Lupita to cook every meal for us for the next two days- still the best chicken enchiladas on the planet. I went back to San Miguel a few times and she cooked for us during those visits- after a while in her modest home.

Today, Dos Casas is still there and very well-known. It's larger now and they have a very renowned restaurant with a good chef. Lupita has not worked there for years and we have lost track.

I know a lot of chefs - some of them are even pretty good. I have still never met anyone who has as good a feel for food as Lupita. Fairly certain I never will. She had a very rare and special gift.
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