Lily Ramirez-Foran is originally from Monterrey in Mexico and moved to Ireland in 2000. She lives in Walkinstown with her husband Alan, an academic, whom she met in Japan on a study trip when they were in their first year in college. Lily runs the Picado Mexican shop in Dublin 2 and teaches classes in Mexican cooking. She is a regular guest on Ireland AM on Virgin Media One.
Both my mother and my grandmother, who died when I was five, were amazing cooks. Mexico is like Italy, in that family life happens around the table; all my early memories are from the kitchen.
What's your most vivid food memory from childhood?
I remember standing at the back of my grandfather's tortilla bakery and him handing me a warm corn tortilla and a stick of butter, and the butter dripping down my arm as I ate the tortilla.
What was the first thing you learned to cook?
As the great granddaughter of tortilla bakers, I was expected to learn early. Now it's different, but until I was about 15, the tortillas were made the old-fashioned way, with everything done by hand, and we were all expected to step up. My father hoped that one of us would take over the business but we all passed.
Did you always know that you wanted to work in food?
Absolutely not - the family business put me off. I wanted to work in an office with air conditioning and wear nice clothes. I started my career as a translator and worked in business. It was only when I came to live in Ireland that everything clicked. I realised that the defining moments in my life were all to do with food, and that my sense of who I am was wrapped up in that. I started finding joy in food and realised I was a feeder.
Who has been the biggest influence on the way that you cook?
My mother, Amelia, who is very adventurous and a great traveller. When she visits me here, we spend our whole time eating.
What's your signature dish?
Salsa is central to the Mexican kitchen and every family has a core of two or three recipes. No one shares their salsa recipe - they are like heirlooms, passed down through the generations. If there are 10 taco stands on a street, the one with the longest queue is the one with the best salsa, so the quality of the salsa can make or break a food business. My two are salsa madura and my grandmother's fried de Arbol salsa.
Is there any ingredient that you hate?
Rapeseed oil - the flavour is so dominant.
Is there anything that you love to eat that you'd prefer your friends didn't know about?
The fried crunchy crickets tossed in chilli that you get in markets in Mexico - people look at me funny when I tell them.
Is there anything that you won't eat for ethical reasons?
Very sadly, it's avocados. I haven't had one for over a year. They are terrible environmentally and also there is huge violence attached to their production as the cartels have taken over.
What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten?
Ant larva. I tried them in a fine-dining restaurant in Mexico the last time I was there and they were so good, smoky and delicious, even though they look disgusting.
What's your guilty (food) pleasure?
Takis - they are a horrible snack, a tortilla chip rolled like a taco and dipped in chilli and spices. I never look at the ingredients, because if I did I wouldn't be able to eat them.
What kitchen gadget could you not live without and what's the most overrated?
My blender and pressure cooker are in constant use. I don't bother with a juicer, they take too long to clean.
What current cooking trend do you dislike the most?
Veganism as a pretext for disordered eating and losing weight. I have no problem with anyone following a vegan diet for ethical reasons.
What's your desert island cookbook?
En La Milpa by Enrique Olvera - it's more a book about ingredients than one for recipes. I love Fany Gerson's Paletas, too, with recipes for Mexican ice-pops. I keep going back to it.
What three things do you always keep in your fridge?
Chipotles in adobo because they make any meal delicious, fresh chillies, and butter.
What's your go-to store-cupboard meal?
Risotto. Alan doesn't cook but we did a cookery class with Paul Flynn at The Tannery and we learned to make risotto and ever since it's been his signature dish. You can use any leftovers from the week so long as you have rice and white wine.
What was the last great meal that you ate?
In Paris on New Year's Eve we went to Eric Levy's clandestine supper club on a little back street in the Latin Quarter. We started at 9pm and were still eating at 2am, the scallops in yuzu were almost like ceviche.
What's your favourite restaurant in the world?
I love Martha Ortiz's Ella Canta in London, she makes me proud to be Mexican. The food is incredible. In Mexico, La Gruta in a cave near the Aztec pyramids is a magical experience; it's Mexican food with history and purpose.
What do you think the impact of Covid-19 will be on the restaurant business?
I try to be positive but worry we will lose restaurants that we all love because they won't be viable with social distancing.
What chef do you admire the most?
Diana Kennedy - I have all her books. If it were not for her documenting all the recipes of Mexico, they might have been lost. I like that she's feisty and gives no shits.
Do you eat breakfast?
I try to but don't always succeed. I'm a better woman when I do. Scrambled eggs on toast or a taco would be the usual.
What are you going to have for dinner tonight?
We are shooting recipes for our online classes today so we'll eat the leftovers - corn tortillas with refried beans and slow-cooked shoulder of pork in a tamarind and de Arbol chilli glaze.
And what will you drink with that?
Two fingers of tequila with Poacher's tonic. It's very refreshing.