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Chef Eduardo Perez Romero has been in Addis Ababa since September 2nd as part of the celebration of the Mexican Month organized by the Embassy of Mexico. The well acclaimed Chef Romero has travelled the world and participated in many festivals showcasing his country’s food. On the last day of the Gastronomic Week that was held at the Sheraton Hotel on September 8th 2014, Romero sat down with Capital’s Eskedar Kifle to talk about his career in the food industry and his experience during this month’s Mexican Month festival: Excerpts;
Capital: Tell us about yourself.
Eduardo Perez Romero: I am from Mexico City originally; I started to study to become a Chef when I was 20 years old in Mexico at a school called the International School of the famous TV chef, Letty Gordon.
After my studies, I started working for different hotels including Royal Hideaway, one of the best all inclusive hotels in that region. After that I became the manager of Xcaret; one of the nicest parks in Mexico.
Then I worked at Fiesta Americana which is a typical Yucatán restaurant. I also worked for a school, teaching new chefs.
I have had the opportunity to travel around the world; I was in Tunisia, Spain and Italy. I was also invited by the Embassy of Belgium to participate in a food festival. I was also invited to India; I travelled all around India for 3 and a half months, I went to more than ten cities and visited different hotels.
Then invitation came from the Mexican Embassy in Ethiopia; they invited me to be a part of the festival. I am very happy with the people’s responses; I did not expect them to be so positive. Those that came to the Gastronomic Week were happy and they liked the food. I made real authentic Mexican food, when preparing the food, the Ethiopians working with me also helped me a lot, it was an amazing team, with out them the festival wouldn’t be possible. Capital: You said a lot of people came to the Gastronomic Week, what has been the nicest feed back you have gotten?
Romero: I got really nice comments on different dishes. One of them is for a soup I made called Huitlacoche which is a fungus that grows on corns; it has been used since ancient times by the Mayans and Aztecs. In France they call it Mexican Truffle.
In my country we make many types of dishes with it. I made soup with it here for the festival and people were amazed because it is a flavor they have never had before in their life, it is something that is really very unique to Mexico. First the people were afraid to taste it because it has an unusual dark color but I assured them that it was good and they liked it.
We also made some Pibil Chicken which is a dish from Yucatan. It is made with a seed that when you crush it, it turns everything red and has a very special flavor that enhances the taste of chicken. People were very happy with that dish as well.
Another special dish we made is called black stew made from chilies that are burned, so it has a smoky flavor and it is black in color. Again people were a bit afraid of it but after tasting it, they were amazed. This is a dish that is also very unique and is only made in one area in Mexico. I brought the ingredients from Mexico for many of the dishes so if you go to Mexico you will get the same taste.
Capital: You really have a diverse array of culinary delights but what is your favorite kind of food?
Romero: The first one is always Mexican, second, I like Lebanese food and the third I have to say is Asian food; Japanese and Chinese. I have also started liking food from India, in the beginning I didn’t like it, out side of India it is very different but in India the food was very nice.
I am also becoming a fan of Enjera, I found it to be very nice and a very different taste, I like food that has been fermented so I am becoming a fan of Enjera. I would like to go to different restaurants in the city and try more of your food. You use a lot of spices which is very nice.
Capital: Are there at all any similarities between food from here and Mexico?
Romero: Yes, I think the way you cook it is similar with ours, with some spices, maybe they are not exactly the same spices, but the taste sometimes is similar.
Capital: As a Chef, when you make food, are you open to different spices from different countries or do you just stick to your own?
Romero: If I am going to create something, yes, I am open to everything. When I want to create a fusion, I use different ingredients.
When I make the real Mexican food, it is a different story because I want to give people the real thing. I am not making Tex-Mex food. People sometimes come and ask me where are the nachos, quesadillas and the burritos and I tell them that is not from Mexico, it is Mexican American style food that is called Tex-Mex. Some people are a little disappointed but then they try what I offer and then they say ‘oh, so this is real Mexican food!’
In Mexico we have more than 1,000 dishes but I brought only some of them here because I only have one week. But with what we did with the food festival here, people were very happy and it is thanks to everyone that has contributed the success.
Capital: Would you think about coming back to Ethiopia for another festival?
Romero: For sure, I love to travel, so far, I have not seen a lot of places here but the people are very nice and I would like to come back.
Capital: Did you always want to become a Chef?
Romero: Actually, if I have to be honest, it was a little strange because, when I was a teenager, I never really found anything I liked. Then when I tried cooking, I found out that it was something that I did not dislike so much; I was not passionate about it.
When I started cooking more and I saw the response of people, it made me happy. The thing I like about cooking is when I see people happy eating my food. When my family, my friends and strangers eat and enjoy my food, I feel very happy inside.
A person once told me that “When you taste the soul of someone, you become friends for life” so I feel that everyone that tastes my dish becomes my friends because they have tasted something from my heart.
So, I became passionate about cooking. I love my country Mexico and having the opportunity, this big honor, to be invited by the Embassies of Mexico in different parts of the world to represent my country’s food, is the biggest honor that anybody can have.
In the beginning, my father did not want me to be a Chef; he used to say that I was wasting my time and that it was not a good profession, it was very tough because they didn’t want me to pursue it but now they are very happy and proud.
Previously, before getting into cooking, I wanted to be a singer or an actor. But now I am very passionate about what I do.
Capital: What do you think is the key to becoming a successful Chef?
Romero: I think the key is never losing your heart, never losing your humility and never thinking you know everything. Everyday, you can learn something new from the people you meet and the experiences you have.
Me, I learn from everyone, everyday. When I learn something new, I feel very happy, even when I make a mistake I am happy to learn from that. That is success in life; be open to learn from everyone, be humble and learn from your mistakes and understand that everyday it is not about how hard you have fallen but how fast you can get up and smile and say it is okay.
Sure it can get very difficult sometimes, you miss your family and such, but I think that is the point no? Never give up and never stop fighting.