Homeland? A tricky concept for Oscar Germes-Castro. He prefers to say that he feels at home in two places: one of which is the Mexican city of Chihuahu and its population of 809,232; the other is Tirol, with its 739,002 inhabitants. He couldn’t stand the Tirolean dialect at first; he likes traditional Tirolean food – although without meat. Because he prefers to cook vegetarian dishes in his one-man restaurant, located just off the regular tourist thoroughfare in Innsbruck. Mexican pork tacos, however, still belong to some of his fondest childhood memories. The story of a Mexican who has made Tirol his new home.
A head full of thick black curls pops out of the door as we call on Oscar Germes-Castro. To be precise, at his very aptly named one-man restaurant, „Oscar kocht” (Oscar Cooks). He literally does it all himself: washing-up, clearing away, cashing-up, cooking, serving, cleaning. No questions, as to whether anyone has an allergy or prefers spicy or mild food are made. „There is no set meal here“, says Oscar, „there is a small menu. You just sit down and are given your food and that is it“. Eight to ten people eat together here in the evening at one table. One room, one table, a bar counter and Oscar. He hit on the idea as was sacked from his previous job.
The best moment: being sacked
Oscar worked at a global organisation with headquarters in Innsbruck from 2005 to 2013. And then he got THE phone call. Restructuring of operations regarding personnel. The department in which Oscar worked reduced staff by a third. Today, Oscar says: „I only needed three seconds before I thought: Great, now I don’t need to get up before 8.00 a.m. anymore and can finally open my own restaurant”. Today he stands in his own restaurant and seems content.
Oscar interrupts our conversation briefly to go behind the counter and leans down to the oven. After all, the courgette cake mustn’t be allowed to burn. He returns and sits back down at the table again, the one reserved for his guests in the evening. Wine glasses, plates, forks, knives. The table is laid and ready by four in the afternoon.
The most difficult moment: the language barrier
Twenty years ago, at the tender age of 17, Oscar still lived in Mexico. He was close to finishing school and not sure what to do next. Thanks to a girlfriend and his cousin, he came up with the idea of taking a German course. His language teacher advised him to spend one or two semesters in Europe to deepen his knowledge of German. In Tirol.
„It really was terrible“, remembers Oscar with a serious face, „I had no idea about German dialects“. There are indigenous languages in Mexico, namely, but no such thing as dialects, he says: „A Mexican can converse equally well with a Spaniard, Cuban or Argentinian“. When Oscar arrived in Innsbruck, he thought to himself: „I will never be able to understand or speak this language“. Today, this is no longer a problem: „I understand the dialect, I just can’t speak it“. The other language students that came with Oscar to Tirol soon returned home. He stayed and studied political science at the University of Innsbruck.
The discovery of his passion: cooking
„Do you want to try the cake?“ Oscar interrupts his story. „This is a courgette and almond tart, without flour“. It has olive oil and almonds from Tarragona, organic eggs from Absam, organic courgettes from Italy, organic Fairtrade sugar and vanilla from Mexico. He started baking cakes at the young age of six, together with his mum and sister. When bored, he would flick through Chihuahua’s yellow pages and look for restaurants: „I wanted to know how many restaurants there were and what kind of food they offered“.
When Oscar decided to stay and study in Innsbruck, cooking became a matter of survival. His parents supported him to the tune of 3,000 Austrian schillings every month (around Euro 220), half of which he needed to pay the rent on his flat-share. After deducting all his other necessary expenditures, he was left with maximum 200 schillings (around Euro 15) every week for food. „So I started getting creative and had to learn how to cook simple meals for little money. This is one of the reasons why I don’t cook with meat“, says Oscar. Cooking with meat isn’t any fun. „But barbequing is“. He laughs. We take a bite of the courgette cake.
Oscar bakes courgette cakes for Innsbruck. Oscar returned to Mexico around every one and a half years and spent most of his summers there as a student. He finally found a job in 2005 and was able to stay permanently in Innsbruck. He then began to get involved in the Tirolean music and cultural scene, with short films, a film festival and as a concert promoter. „I performed at concerts myself and find it difficult not to be really involved in this scene. I can’t, I don’t want to“. When Oscar is not cooking, he likes to visit concerts at p.m.k., Treibhaus and sometimes at the Weekender. Apart from that, he likes going to Leokino (cinema) in Innsbruck, or the Cinematograph, to watch films. He hardly cooks at home, because cooking means work to him. „I prefer to visit other restaurants“.
The revelation: a farmer’s cookbook
Oscar examined the traditional cuisine – or rather the type of food that is generally referred to as traditional. He cooks without meat and is of the opinion that his style of cooking is much more in keeping with traditional Tirolean cuisine as the standard Wiener schnitzel, goulash or Frankfurter sausage fare. A friend gave him a copy of a Tirolean farmer’s cookbook. Only around one quarter of the recipes involve the use of meat, explains Oscar. For the simple reason that meat was too expensive for farmers back then. He wishes that more traditional restaurants would put “Graukäsesuppe” (grey cheese soup), for example, or oatmeal gruel on their menus. And these are the words of a native Mexican. One of Oscar’s favourite moments was when he prepared baked apple for his guests. An elderly man who had travelled all the way from western Tirol for this evening meal saw baked apple on the menu and said: „Lovely! The last time I ate baked apple was with my mother“.
Childhood happiness: pork tacos
It is shortly before 17.00 hrs and Oscar needs to pick up his wine delivery. He grabs a small trolley and pushes it across the street. The sun is blinding. Oscar talks of his fondest childhood memories. His parents separated and his father moved to the metropolis of Mexico City, which actually wasn’t nice at all. One or two years later, however, Oscar travelled to Mexico City with his mother and sister to visit his father, „by plane there and we drove back – that was lovely. 1,800 kilometres. And I ate “Tacos al Pastor” for the first time when I was in Mexico City. These are heavily marinated pork tacos, which are cooked like kebabs and served with fresh pineapple. That was the very best moment for me and my sister“.
Oscar pushes the trolley over the tram tracks and around the corner. If he could give a child a piece of advice today, what would it be, I ask Oscar. He answers: „A child might not understand my advice. Because it would be: stay as you are. Don’t let society, or your family or friends to change you. If they must, only allow what is most important, because the creative adult is the child who survives“.
Oscar stops in front of a tiny shop selling specialities from Sardinia. A yellow van is parked outside and the driver is unloading boxes filled with bottled wine. Oscar knows the winemaker personally. He also sources his schnapps from two families that he knows well. He expresses his thanks and balances the wine boxes on his trolley, before pushing it back over the road to his restaurant. Oscar has arrived.