Gabriela Cámara

This week's 'In Her Permanent Collection' is dedicated to the woman behind some of the best food in North AND Central America, the celebrated chef and restaurateur, Gabriela Cámara, owner of Contramar in Mexico City and Cala in San Francisco.

Permanent Collection: Gabriela, you lead a busy, peripatetic life, constantly shuttling between Mexico City and San Francisco for your work and family. Is there an object in your personal 'Permanent Collection' that you always miss when you're not at home with it?

Gabriela Cámara: It would have to be my wooden tortilla press from Michoacán, a state northwest of Mexico City. My mother bought it for me in some market on the street when I was little. At the time I was learning to make tortillas from scratch. And anyway, where would I be in my career without a tortilla press?!

P.C.: Tell us about the importance of this tool to Mexican cuisine.

G.C.: A tortilla press is to a true tortilla maker as essential as any object could be. If you are making tortillas with 'nixtamalized' corn masa, which is to say, corn dough made with kernels treated with an alkaline lime solution, you absolutely need a tortilla press. And unless you are a real master, capable of using only your hands for the task – a skill rarer than you'd think! – a press is indispensable.

P.C.: What is it about this particular press that encouraged you to choose it?

G.C.: Even though tortilla presses are ubiquitous (at least in the Americas), this one is both especially functional and also beautifully crafted. And simple – most of all simple. By nature, a tortilla press is a basic piece of equipment: two pieces of heavy wood to press corn dough into a flat disc to be cooked on the 'comal.' I’ve had this one for as long as I can remember. Even when it was too heavy for my small 7 year old hands, learning how to make tortillas, I wanted to use it.