Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Baking Bread in Santa Elena

Stephanie, Channa and I had the pleasure of meeting with Don Gonzalo and his wife, Mariana, during a normal workday in their bakery in Santa Elena. Don Gonzalo had prepared dough earlier in the day, and invited us to see him bake it off. He thoroughly explained to us the cost of his ingredients and equipment, which he has accumulated through a lifetime of hard work and planning.

What emerged during our conversation was the narrative of a self-made man. Gonzalo began working at ten in a tortilleria owned by a prominent Santa Elena family. He later enrolled in a military academy in Merida. The rigid hierarchy of the institution did not appeal to his independent nature, but he used the opportunity to advance himself and save money to launch himself in baking. He returned to Santa Elena in the mid-1970s to establish his business. He started with a traditional wood-burning oven that is still in use, and later supplemented it with a large commercial gas oven.

Gonzalo and his workers worked quickly and efficiently as they removed tray after tray of pan frances y pan yoyo from the oven, Gonzalo talking all the while. He still oversees every step of the bread-making, because he knows he must guarantee a quality product to his customers. Clearly this is hard work, but Don Gonzalo considers it a good life, because he has made it for himself and his wife with his own hands. In the words of Don Gonzalo, he prefers his work because "nadie me manda."

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