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Ismene Venegas

When I was born, we lived on the sea but I was allergic to the sea breeze and forced my family to move to a different neighborhood. Both of my parents worked and my mother performed miracles to have food on the table. So, early on, the children earned rights and responsibilities so that they could help out in the kitchen. My right would be to skateboard in the neighborhood cul-de-sac and my responsibility would be to help my mom in the kitchen. Regardless of how progressive my parents were in some respects, for food, we were a traditional family and the tortillas and the avocado had to be on the table when my father came home for the big meal or it would be distressing for him and for all of us. My first right and responsibility was to skate across the street to the tortilleria to buy the tortillas.

As a young girl, I was a disaster. In the 80s, we had a tough economic time and I lived in a constant angst as to why I didn't have the latest and greatest brands and because so, I had a tough time communicating with my mother. Even in the kitchen, we had a complicated affair. She lied to me by telling me that all the cream-based soups she prepared were made from asparagus which was the only vegetable I would eat. I remember that the first dish I was allowed to prepare was the noodle soup, la sopa de fideo.

When I was eighteen, I was horrible. My parents believed in science and my father worked with UNAM to open feeder schools in Baja. The family was focused on academia and even though I was a good student, I lacked motivation. I ditched a lot and partied a lot. When I had to pick a career at such a young age, I impulsively chose to live in Mexico City and to study mathematics at UNAM. It was such a bad decision. I almost graduated from that horrendous decision but didn't quite make it. I wasn't satisfied as a mathematician and there was a strike at UNAM that helped me change my course. I told my parents that I wanted to come back to Ensenada.

When I was deciding what to do next, I went to the beaches of Guerrero and Oaxaca as a backpacker and began cooking fish in little huts on the beach. When I ran out of money and came back, my father had a stroke in 1999 and I had to help the family and take some responsibility with the demands of my father with his surgery and his recuperation. We didn't know if he would live or die. We didn't know if he would be brain-dead if he did live. It turned out that he had to re-learn how to live at the most fundamental level. Those five months that I tended to my father helped us grow closer until the day he died and the part that I liked the most was cooking for him.

When I told my parents that I wanted to become a chef, they cut me off. We moved to Mexico City and I began cooking in Coyoacán working for seventy pesos daily. I'd come home cut, burned and worn out and my parents would question my decision to be killing myself in a hot kitchen. But, I was happy, and a friend of the family got me a scholarship to study at the Claustro Sor Juana in Mexico City. I loved it and now I had the responsibility of matriculating because a family friend was paying for my education.

While I was studying, I worked for Benito Molina and Solange Muris at Manzanilla DF and when I graduated in 2008, I went to work at Laja in Valle de Guadalupe and to finish my thesis on independent wine producers in Baja California. By this time, my mother had partnered with two other women to open a vineyard in Valle de Guadalupe called Tres Mujeres. This is how my life begins in Valle de Guadalupe. Now, I have my own outdoor kitchen called El Pinar (The Pinelot) on the property where my mom has her vineyard and winery.

I don't have children and I haven't really wanted to have children but I do like babysitting and I get along well with children. When my niece was born, I began to get sentimental about the idea of having children but my career is very demanding and although it is not impossible, I think it's really hard to dedicate the necessary time to raising a child. I don't know how I'd do it.