By Javier Cabral
I first arrived in Mexico City to open a restaurant concept for chef Jean-Georges. It wasn’t a Mexican restaurant but we did use local products, which subsequently made me fall in love with Mexican cuisine. I then fell in love with Mexico and its people. You can easily source everything from vegetables, fruits, seafood, and meats of the highest quality there. As a chef, this is a very important aspect to my quality of life and for this reason, I decided to stay in Mexico. For me, simplicity is a form of perfection and Mexican food is perfect. How can something so simple taste so good?
There is a magic to Mexican food. I then took it upon myself to to research the regional subtleties of Mexican cuisine during any chance that I can get. Every single holiday or vacation, I found myself going to the small pueblos, big cities, and coasts to taste as much as I can. I’ve even had other Mexican chefs tell me, “Chef! You’ve been to more places in Mexico than myself or most cooks I know!” The reality is that I just love to research, eat, and travel. There is so much history in Mexico and just thinking of a good taco, tostada, or plate of mole almost makes me cry.
Little by little, I started forming my restaurant concept in Mexico and then dared to open Huset.
I left my home country of Venezuela when I was nine years old. I’ve lived in nine countries since then and while I’m from there and have memories of what my mother and grandmother cooked, my food has nothing to do with Venezuela. I never went back because of the current political turmoil going on there. All of my family left too.
To this day, no one has brought up the fact that I am not Mexican yet I have a few restaurants that take a lot from Mexican cooking. I am fortunately enough that my customers in general have even identified themselves in my dishes and have mentioned things like, “This dish reminds me of home.”
If I were to offer any tip or piece of advice to any other chefs out there who want to cook a cuisine that is not the one of that reflects their heritage, it would be to make sure to do your research and be humble. I’m not talking about just taking a couple of days to go to Oaxaca or taking a vacation in any other part of Mexico, or even a taking a few months. This process takes many years. You must also make sure to learn the basics. If you still love the cuisine after only learning the basics, then you can keep on going, and going, and going. After opening two restaurants doing Mexican-influenced food, I’m still learning myself from my hardworking cooks and employees every day. Just make sure to stay open-minded and always give credit where the credit is due.
As told to Javier Cabral