Purism in Mexican food is total bullshit.
If you think about it, that's what is beautiful about any cuisine—that it can take on so many complex variations and styles depending on the region and the background of the people that eat it. Sure, there are some versions that are more fortunate than others. But the more options you have, the better.
What? You are telling me that you are only going to do pre-Hispanic Mexican food like so many chefs claim to do? You don't even know what that tastes like! Even if you have the same ingredients as they did back then, they've gone through so many generations of domestication that their flavor profiles aren't the same.
I think that "dumbing down" flavors at restaurants is bullshit too. Everyone understands good food and to think that they do not is very disrespectful to your patrons.
I mean, I think that anthropology is amazing and all—especially in Mexican food, since it is the cuisine that brought things like vanilla beans, chilis, tomatoes, and chocolate to the world. But when you go to a restaurant, it is all about your palate and the way things taste; not their history. With mariscos—the style of Mexican food that I specialize in—there is more room to not be pure. Since most recipes like ceviches and fish tacos are usually simple and have to do more with the quality of the ingredients that you are using, you can easily do more with them. That is what I did at my restaurant Contramar in Mexico City. For example, those same fish tacos can be treated like al pastor tacos and then, voilà! You have fish al pastor tacos, a dish of mine that is definitely not "pure" because you would never have that protein with that marinade, but is delicious.
I think that "dumbing down" flavors at restaurants is bullshit too. Everyone understands good food and to think that they do not is very disrespectful to your patrons. This always-evolving form of Mexican food, without being limited by the region where it's in or traditions, is my daily inspiration at Cala, the coastal Mexican restaurant that I am opening up in San Francisco.
Even icons like René Redzepi and Ferran Adriá have proclaimed their love to tacos recently.
I absolutely love how—on so many levels—Mexican food is gathering importance in the US. We are living through a time when it is being revalued, and that is really exciting as a cook. I think this change in beliefs is partially because of globalization and the fact that more chefs are realizing how really versatile Mexican food can be; even icons like René Redzepi and Ferran Adriá have proclaimed their love to tacos recently. So, I'm also looking forward to introducing more people to the idea that good Mexican food isn't just good salsas and moles. No disrespect to Oaxacan cuisine or the attention that it has gotten in the food media at all, since its rich landscape and 40 different languages spoken in just that one state makes its gastronomy one of the most complex in Mexico.
Aside from the fact that the father of my child wanted to live in San Francisco, I chose San Francisco to open up my restaurant because of its proximity to the ocean and the bounty of produce that it has access to. Don't even get me started about the amazing selection of sustainable seafood purveyors who live by the Monterey Bay's Seafood Watch standards, or the existence of heirloom Mexican crop farmer Rancho Gordo. I even found a farm in California growing white corn for my homemade nixtamal for tortillas. Thus, I decided that I'm going to start off the food menu at my restaurant without importing anything from Mexico. Of course, with the exception of tequilas and mezcals.
I'm looking forward to the challenge.
As told to Javier Cabral
This post was originally published on July, 2015.