MY profession is painting, begins Martha Chapa, in an earnestness not to be questioned. But the white chef's uniform, never mind the blue jeans, says otherwise. ''In Mexico, until recent times, you used to be ashamed to be a cook.'' Ms Chapa is in Hong Kong because of those changing times. The popularity of Mexican cuisine sends her jet-setting around the world - New York, Paris, Denmark, now Asia - as one of its ardent spokeswomen. The cookbook author and television personality is a respected artist and culinary historian. A member of the Mexican Circle for the Culinary Arts and other societies, she shares the limelight and spreads the gospel with luminaries such as Patricia Quintana and British-born Mexican food expert Diana Kennedy. On her first visit to Hong Kong, Ms Chapa arrived very late one evening and weary. The horror story of being detained in Los Angeles, where airport custom authorities demanded that she open all 50 crates of supplies and ingredients, is history. Accompanied by her favourite assistant-confidante-manager, her daughter Martha Ortiz, the pair are cooking for the current Mexican promotion at the Kowloon Shangri-La. When asked for examples from the menu - beyond fresh mango margaritas, chilli-pork toastadas, octopus salad with cactus leaves and clay pot coffee with cinnamon, which characterise their style, Ms Ortiz answered without any hesitation. ''The green salad with marinated shrimp. We use a hot chilli, called chilli piquin. In Mexico, you usually eat this chilli with fruit. It's street food. But in this salad, it's out of context. It surprises people. ''My mother also makes the best lobster enchiladas. In this recipe she's a little bit like a fashion designer. Modern, yet traditional, the way a [Karl] Lagerfeld [the designer for Chanel] does classic yet modern.'' The traditional dish is changed by the mole which is made from a reduction of chicken stock. Enriched with Mexican chocolate and pasilla chilli, it is finished with hazelnuts. Any art buff familiar with Ms Chapa's paintings (which illuminate the pages of her cookbooks) will see her trademark apple. On this menu, the apple appears under sweets and desserts as in sauteed apples with cajeta (caramelised milk) and custard cream. The Marthas have co-written five of Chapa's eight cookbooks. When not continent-hopping for the love of Mexico and their livelihood, they live in Mexico City, where Ms Ortiz runs her own events consulting company. It was sociology, not her mother, she points out, that got her interested in food. As a sociologist she studied in a small community within Mexico City, where the making of mole sauce was regarded as a rite of passage. ''I saw how passionate people were about food, how cooking and dining were respected and used as a common denominator to make friends.'' In describing her mother, Ms Ortiz uses words like creative, sensible and artistic. On herself, she is tougher. ''I am hysterical and military. I like production. I'm the one who deals with the publisher, the deadlines. I say 'Come on, mummy. We must shoot the photos today'. We don't fight much, just a little. But I'm the one who gets angry with the waiters.'' When Ms Chapa converses, the tone of her voice has all the urgency of a blistering day by a swimming pool in Acapulco. Sentences are never rushed, it's easy to hang on to every word, and her doe-like eyes. Her daughter is as laid-back as a traffic jam on a Friday evening in Mexico City. Her gestures say all, and when she extends a hand in a handshake, she apologises for the sticky fingers. Unpacking the candies, mole, tequila from Mexico City is a messy chore. There is no time in Ortiz's life for marriage. And the thought of playing the role of wife and mother, a figure who must be sweet, docile and at home every morning and evening, makes her shrug. Food, travelling and calling your own business shots is morefun. When they find free-time during this visit, all they want to do is walk and eat real Chinese food. ''Chinese restaurants in Mexico aren't too good,'' adds Ms Ortiz. ''We have a Hunan-style one but the flavours are pretty diluted, the way Mexican food is in America. You know, burritos and Tex-Mex things. Nothing genuine. ''The other restaurant is Szechuan. The food is very good but it's terribly expensive.''