An aviation services manager recently gave Celia Galindo a call a few days after she had cooked meals for customers waiting to go through customs on their way to points south from Brownsville South Padre Island Airport.
“Do you know who you served the other day?” the manager asked.
No, she replied, saying she often does not know the identity of affluent customers she serves waiting to go through the customs process.
“It was Bill Gates and his wife,” the manager told her.
Galindo smiled at the memory and in true chef fashion, quickly added, “We did enchiladas for them.”
The kitchen of Gourmet Central by Cel on Elizabeth Street in Brownsville is a busy place. She and her staff cook for the rich and famous, be it Gates or the Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, who also enjoyed Galindo’s dishes at the airport.
Mexican entertainer Pablo Montero is a fan of the menudo Galindo and her mother Chickie Samano serve. A photo of the three with beaming smiles is among the photos hanging on the walls of La Escondida. The restaurant is part of Galindo’s enterprise and among the cluster of rooms at the business on Elizabeth.
Rows of delivery orders are stuck up with pins in the spacious Gourmet Central kitchen. They are catering orders as well as customers coming by the restaurant for private dining.
“This kitchen can go from calm to crazy in a minute or two,” Galindo said. “We can’t wait for the next adrenaline rush.”
The Brownsville native has done, as she puts, “a lot of things.” Standing in her kitchen after another busy day of work, she said, “This is what has grounded me.”
Her education comes from an elite Mexico City school whose students mainly come from the diplomatic and international business community. Her father owned a furniture factory in the city. She would marry there and became active for years in the Mexican motion picture industry, working as a still photographer.
Galindo would eventually return to Brownsville. Her love for cooking endured through the years. She started a business in catering, then landed a contract with the president’s office of the University of Texas-Brownsville/Texas Southmost College. Galindo would build a good business there, but then the UTB and TSC partnership dissolved in 2015. Her business suffered a huge hit. Galindo nearly closed up.
“I was about down to my last penny,” she said.
Galindo would gradually regain traction, getting contracts with the Moody Clinic and doing major events and conferences at South Padre Island. She built up her restaurant business with an emphasis on private events and celebrations. She also was preparing meals for customers going through customs at the airport.
“There were plenty of tears,” Galindo recalled. “It was about not letting yourself give up.”
Galindo is now thinking of expanding her restaurant and doing more outside of Brownsville.
“We were dreamers through it all,” Galindo said. “I guess we still are.”