The year 2020 has been a nightmare for almost everyone in the entire world, but especially those folks in the restaurant business. The pandemic has forced proprietors to rearrange dining areas and make other adjustments including outdoor seating. Many establishments took a financial bath and permanently shut down. But Gabriela Camara seems to wave a magic wand of success, and some key connections in high places has certainly been beneficial.
Gabriela Camara is a widely recognized Mexico City restauranteur who has built an empire around her flagship seafood eatery Contramar, which opened in 1998. Since then, the 43 year old chef has opened six more upscale dining spots in the capital, plus a chic restaurant in San Francisco known as Cala. Consider that plus her best selling cookbook called “My Mexico City Kitchen” (available on Amazon), and there’s little wonder why Camara made Time Magazine’s top 100 list of influential people.
Camara, raised by a Mexican father and Italian mother from Philadelphia, grew up on both sides of the border. She has never received any culinary training. In fact, Gabriela opened Contramar at age 22 on a whim to bring Zihuatanejo style fish tacos to tantalize the taste buds of Mexico City residents on the go. The concept mushroomed into a daily lunch ritual for loyal customers in less than a year, prompting Camara to open up a huge, smartly appointed warehouse in the Roma district to serve her hungry customers. She learned on the fly to prepare other creations from the ocean and expanded her menu.
“I thought, Oh God, this is becoming fashionable,” recalls Gabriela. “We can’t let it go downhill.”
She didn’t, running Contramar for 15 years while developing a mixed crowd of artists, government elites and wealthy tourists who didn’t mind spending a few extra pesos for trendy Mexican comfort food in an elegant atmosphere. But ever restless with a passion for travel and adventure, Camara moved to San Francisco in 2015 and opened her newest project, Cala. It was there where she met up with an old friend, Mexican politician Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
“(Andres) told me he was running for president again and made me promise that if victorious, he would need my help,” recalled Camara. “How could I refuse?”
As we all know, AMLO won the election by a landslide, so Gabriela packed her bags, grabbed her nine year old son Lucas, and headed back to Mexico City. Her assignment with the new president would be similar to a cabinet post, creating a nutritional awareness program for millions of Mexicans who still live in poverty. This is important to Lopez Obrador, a socialist who believes the federal government is obligated to assist the poor in every way possible. Camara was provided an office in the presidential palace and receives plenty of perks, but still has ample time to take care of her restaurants and other activities.
“I have no political aspirations to be a governor or anything like that,” admits Gabriela. “But this is an important time in Mexico, and having a chance to help people have a better life is an honor.”
Camara’s soulmate and the father of Lucas is Pablo Bueno, a savvy businessman and a partner at Contramar will oversee the operations at Cala and explore the possibility of opening a new restaurant in Los Angeles. It was rumored that Camara and Bueno might invest in a Santa Monica establishment called Onda, although those plans are off now due to COVID issues. However, the pair are still interested in opening up a place in the area when the time is right.
“There are more Mexicans living in Los Angeles than anywhere else besides Mexico,” reasons Camara. “Why wouldn’t we want to explore that opportunity?
For now though, Gabriela Camara is busy 24/7 with huge commitments and responsibilities. Her plate is full.