During a recent vacation to Rancho La Puerta’s Fitness Resort, Cooking School & Culinary Center, in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico, I spoke with Denise Roa, executive chef of La Cocina Que Canta, about her kindness toward animals.
Denise, when we met two years ago, we struck up a conversation about my “Spare An Animal, Eat a Vegetable” T-shirt. What inspired you to want to consume a plant-based diet?
In the last two years, I have been fortunate to work at La Cocina Que Canta, which means “The Kitchen That Sings.” Salvador (who tends the seven-acre organic fruit and
vegetable garden) really loves vegetables, and I took this job because we don’t have to kill animals. If I am a guest at a Mexican friend’s home and their grandmother cooked, I cannot say no; I do eat dairy, but very little. I want to make smarter choices about what I eat, and think we should have more respect for animals.
Your dad is a veterinarian. How did that shape your ideas about animals?
Well, my dad still eats meat, but has a deep passion for all animals. As a little girl, we always had surprises left at the door step of the house. We would nurse the animals back to health. I also played lots of sports and my weekend job was to work for my dad to pay for trips. I have always had a special bond with all animals.
Describe Rancho La Puerta’s organic vegetable garden outside the cooking school.
La Cocina Que Canta is one of the most magical places. There is a balance between the garden and Mother Nature and all the animals that live here. It takes years off our lives being able to go outside and listen to birds, to see spiders and hear coyotes late in the evenings. My favorite time right now is around 7:30 pm when I take the last walk to the foot of the mountain to thank all living beings for their energy and love.
How much food is grown to feed 100 or more guests each week at the fitness resort?
All the fruits and vegetables are grown for Rancho La Puerta’s guests, and 85 – 95% of what they eat is grown in our garden. I try to only use what we have in season.
You introduced me to “Blondie” (Perrita blanca), a sweet, adorable, pregnant dog who arrived with two offspring and adopted you. Tell us about her arrival.
I am so lucky to have her. I’m still waiting for her to have puppies, and then she’ll be spayed along with her puppies. When she arrived she was thin, and obviously smart.
It took her two weeks to learn how to live here at La Cocina Que Canta. Now she is at home with me and doing well. I think of her as 100% Mexican Street Dog with the best survival skills.
There’s a veterinarian in Tecate who can perform the surgical sterilizations for adopted street dogs?
There are many doctors, but I think it’s more about education. We need to teach people about the benefits of why to spay or neuter, not just feel sad when one sees dogs in Mexico’s streets. When I first moved here, I cried when I saw a dog in the street and felt bad for the dog; I thought the dog was sad. Not all countries are as lucky as we are, and there are many hard-working groups working to educate people. The question remains, if one doesn’t make enough money to feed their children, do they have money to spay or neuter a dog? This is a big issue with a lot of complexity, and we need to keep educating others.